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3 1148 00184 3903 


Prisoners of the'- Soviets 


cc My sentence 

Jive years of 

forced labor** 

From a photograph of the author taken in Finland 
immediately after his escape from the U. S. S. R. 











BY HALE, CUSHMAN & FLINT, Incorporated 

All rights reserved no part of this book may be reproduced in any form 
without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer 
who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written 
for inclusion in a magazine or newspaper. 

First Printing, February 1935 
Second Printing^ February 1935 
Third Printing* February 1 935 



A HE story of Professor Tchernavin's escape into Fin- 
land with his wife and son who had been visiting him in the 
Soviet prison camp, where he was serving a sentence, has 
been dramatically told in Madame Tchernavin's book, 
ft 'Escape from the Soviets. 3 ' When her book was published 
the reproduction of photographs of either Professor Tcher- 
navin or his wife was considered unwise, as it might enable 
the GPU agents in Finland to trace them. We are fortunate 
to have obtained the author's permission now to reproduce 
photographs of himself, of his wife and of their son Audrey. 





i "OPEN! THIS is THE GPU" , . 3 






vii ON TO Moscow 57 


ix 48 To BE SHOT 76 



xi ARREST 91 

*. xn CELL 22 96 





xvii OLD MEN AND BOYS 131 








xxm "NOVELISTS" 178 


xxv WE MOVE TO " KRESTI " 190 

xxvi "Tms is NO TRIAL" 194 


xxviii THE " CONVEYOR " 205 






xxxin " WELCOME " TO SOLOVKI 240 



xxxvi VEGUERASHKA 265 

xxxvii ASSIGNED TO DUTY 270 
















THE AUTHOR 1934 " " 336 








TELL my own story because I believe that only in 
this way can I discharge the moral obligation which 
a kindly Fate imposed upon me in helping me to 
escape from the Soviet Terror the duty to speak for 
those whose voices cannot be heard. 

In silence they are sent away as convicts to the 
concentration camps; in silence they suffer torture 
and go to meet their death from Soviet bullets. 

Nothing is invented in this book and I stand back 
of every statement I have made. In a few instances 
to protect others I have been compelled to conceal 
the identity of certain people, but I have indicated 
that fact in each specific case. All those whom I 
describe are real persons and everything is true to 
the minutest detail. 

This is a narrative of what befell a Russian scien- 
tist under the Soviet regime. More than that, it is 
the story of many, if not most, people of education 
in the U.S.S.R. today. 

As you read, please remember that I speak of 
myself only because it enables me to tell the story of 
others. Remember, also, that, in the Soviet Union, 
innocent people are still being tried for " wrecking" 
and that intelligent men are still being forced by 
torture to "confess" to crimes which they never 

Remember, too, that thousands of Russian men 
and women of education are still languishing in the 
filthy cells of the GPU prisons and in the cold bar- 
racks of the concentration camps, poorly clad and 
starving, breaking with exhaustion under the hard- 
ships of inhuman slavery. 


December, 1934 



COULD not sleep. It was a night at the end of March in 
Murmansk, far up beyond the Arctic Circle. The wind 
howled outside my lodgings one room and a tiny 
kitchen and a frozen rope, put up to hang the wash on, 
banged against the wooden wall of the house. The North- 
ern Lights played in the sky and, as if in answer, the elec- 
tric wires sounded, now with only a quiet hum, now with 
the roar of a steamboat siren. My wife and little son were 
at our home in Leningrad and as usual I had been spend- 
ing the evening alone in my room. It was not a gay apart- 
ment; two tables, three chairs, a bookshelf and a sofa 
comprised all of its furnishings. 

On the sofa which was my bed I had been trying to sleep. 
Suddenly I heard a noise in the house, and loud footsteps. 
Something must have happened at the wharf, I thought, 
and the sailors have come to get the assistant manager of 
the trawler fleet. The poor man never had any peace, day 
or night. I listened. Yes, the knocking was at his door. 

It ceased. Two hours passed. Then came a loud knock- 
ing at my own door. I hated to get up it must be a mis- 
take, I thought. Perhaps some drunken sailor has come to 
the wrong door. The knocking continued. I got up from 
my sofa, and without putting anything on over my night- 
clothes went to the door. 

" Who's there? " I asked. 

" Open! " a voice commanded. 


" Who are you, and what do you want? " 

" Open! " 

" What is this nonsense? Trying to get into a strange 
apartment at two o'clock in the morning! Who are you 
and what do you want? " 

" Open at once! This is the GPU." l 

" Oh! Well, please come in. If you had said so at first, 
I wouldn't have kept you waiting." 

Three men came in, two in the military uniform of the 
GPU and carrying revolvers, the third a Red guard with 
a rifle. I stood before them in my night shirt and bed slip- 

" Have you firearms? " they asked. 

" No." 

I could not help smiling how could I hide firearms 
under a night shirt! 

I let them search me, then dressed and sat down on a 
chair in the middle of the room. The Red guard stood lean- 
ing against the door, while the GPU men began to go 
through my things. I watched them. What could they be 
looking for? They turned over everything on my table, 
which was littered with manuscripts and notes which they 
could not have understood. They put these back, however, 
with some care; it seemed that my papers did not interest 
them. Then they searched through my wearing apparel 

i GPU are the initials of the Russian words meaning State Political 
Administration, a Soviet organization of secret political police which suc- 
ceeded the Cheka. Although similar in some respects to the secret service 
of other European nations, the GPU has functions of a far wider scope 
both as to authority and administration of power in the U.S.S.R. GPU (or 
Gay-Pay-Oo) is an abbreviated form of the official title, OGPU, or Central 
State Political Administration, and although commonly used in referring 
to the OGPU, it is the correct title of the branches of this organization in 
the provinces, which branches often act as quite independent units. OGPU 
refers to the headquarters of this organization in Moscow and is used in 
all formal orders and announcements coming from there and in speeches 
when a note of authority is desired. TRANSLATOR. 


and raked all the ashes out of the stove. I wondered what 
they expected to find hidden in a stove that was still warm. 

They ransacked my bed; they looked into every book. 
On my shelf were several little bags of grits and sugar 
from the cooperative store. These they carefully emptied 
and looked through the contents. 

What were they looking for? They had now been at it 
for hours, searching one small room with scarcely anything 
in it, and they had not even read my papers. It was begin- 
ning to get tiresome and I stopped watching them. I was 
thinking that if they arrested me now and began dragging 
me from prison to prison, I should not be able to let my 
wife know what had happened to me and she would be 
distressed and anxious. At last one of the men turned to 
me and asked if I had an axe. 

" What for? " 

" We must tear up the floor/' he said in a businesslike 

This puzzled me. It seemed strange to enter the house of 
a scientist in the middle of the night, search for something 
in little bags of sugar, rake hot ashes out of his stove and 
as a climax wreck the floor of a building which belonged 
to the government. 

" I can find an axe," said I, and brought it from the 
kitchen myself. 

But now, to my surprise, their energy seemed to leave 
them. After consulting for a few minutes, they decided to 
let the floor alone. This was the end of the show. They 
wrote out a statement to the effect that nothing incriminat- 
ing had been found during the search and then departed. 
They had not arrested me after all. I was completely at a 
loss as to the meaning of the whole procedure. 

It was now six o'clock in the morning. What ought I 
to do? Now that they had gone I became nervous and 


" Idiots! " I cried aloud. Whatever did they want? What 
a stupid comedy! 

I was not sleepy now, but I was shivering from a sleepless 
night. I felt that I needed a drink. I looked on the shelf, 
but there was no vodka, so I lit my camp stove to make 
some tea. As I was doing this my next-door neighbor 
knocked lightly. 

" You are not sleeping? May I come in? " 

" Yes, indeed! Come in! Glad to see you. I was just mak- 
ing some tea. I'm almost frozen and have no vodka." 

" Let me bring you some. I'd like a drink, too. I haven't 
slept all night." 

He came back with a pint bottle. " I'm sorry, but there 
isn't much in it for two," he said. 

" It will do. You will have to excuse me, I've nothing to 
go with it." 

" We need nothing we shall drink it in the Murmansk 
way with ' salt tongue ' for an appetizer." 

In Murmansk provisions were very scarce and hard to 
get, and when they had nothing else, the inhabitants would 
put a pinch of salt on their tongues after drinking and jok- 
ingly say they were eating salt tongue with their vodka. 

After we had finished our vodka and hot tea we grew 
warm and calmer. 

" I had visitors to-night," said my neighbor looking at 
me significantly, 

" I had some, too," I replied. " They stayed about four 
hours and have just gone. You see the disorder." 

" They visited everybody in the house except Daniloff; 
they must have left him alone because he is a Communist. 
You know my room there is nothing in it except a bed 
and a stool, so they tore up the floor. They took my silver 
watch that I bought in 1910 in Norway. They took Vasily 
Ivanovitch's old sweater and a pair of stockings from his 
wife, saying these things were contraband. He was too 


frightened to protest, but his wife tried to argue, saying 
that the things were not contraband that she had bought 
the stockings a year ago at an auction in the custom house 
and that the sweater had been given her husband three 
years ago by the Trust. Still, they took the things. I was 
given a receipt for my watch. What do you think will 
I get into trouble over it? Everyone here knows I had it 
before the War." 

This story made me feel better; perhaps after all they 
were only looking for contraband. Of course it was stupid 
and provoking, but we were living near a port where for- 
eign ships came in, bringing coal and salt, so that smug- 
gling was possible. And the raid was so strange; they did 
not take a single paper and had only glanced at the manu- 
scripts on my desk. Oh, this everlasting Soviet suspicionl 

Alas! Within a few hours I knew that my optimism was 
groundless. Scherbakoff, who had actually created the en- 
terprise which had come to be designated as the North 
State Fishing Trust, and Krotoff, a member of its board 
of directors and manager of the fleet of trawlers both of 
them my close associates here at Murmansk had been 
arrested during the night. The houses of all the non-Com- 
munist employees of the Trust, regardless of the length 
of their service, had been searched and in most cases the 
GPU men had been very rough; in two places they had torn 
up the floor. 

It was clear that the Murmansk GPU was staging a big 
" case." The thoroughness of the search and the tearing up 
bf floors was meant to show that the GPU had strong evi- 
dence against those whose apartments had been searched. 
The large number o raids indicated that our whole or- 
ganization was to be involved. The arrest of the heads of 
the Trust proved that the GPU was out for something big. 
In the U.S.S.R. everyone knows that he may be put in 
prison even though he is not guilty; therefore, we all lived 


with the same thought in mind when would our own 
turn come? This attitude very naturally tended to lessen 
the efficiency of our work. We had a faint hope, or rather 
deluded ourselves into hoping, that these raids and arrests 
were being carried out by the Murmansk GPU on its own 
initiative and that, when the case came to the attention of 
Moscow, it would be ordered dropped so that it would 
not cause a disruption in the work of the fishing industry. 

In the meantime, however, the GPU was very busy. All 
the employees of our Trust the North State Fishing 
Trust, of which I was Director of Research were ques- 
tioned in turn and, in spite of the signed pledge of secrecy 
that was required of them and the threat that any disclos- 
ure of the subject of the inquiries would lead to one's com- 
mitment to the convict concentration camp at Solovki, the 
news spread quickly. 

Within only a few days everybody knew that the GPU 
was looking for proof of "wrecking " activity. 2 

2 " Wrecking " is an official Soviet expression used to describe any ac- 
tivity undertaken for political reasons with intent to damage the industry. 



LND now, before I go on to tell what happened after 
this strange midnight search and the arrest of ray two 
friends, Scherbakoff and Krotoff, in Murmansk, let me 
explain as simply as I can how both I and those working 
with me came to be stationed in such a remote outpost of 
civilization, and how that very work to which we were giv- 
ing our conscientious and untiring efforts ultimately, 
though for no fault of our own, was to bring only misery 
and distress to ourselves and to our families. 

Technically and according to the many questionnaires 
which I had to fill in during my life in the U.S.S.R. I be- 
long to the nobility. To the Soviet Government this means 
that I am a class enemy, but, as is often the case among the 
Russian nobility, neither my parents nor I possessed any 
money or property which we had not acquired by our own 
honest efforts and work. I was fifteen years old when my 
father died. I had an elder sister and four younger brothers, 
the youngest a child of three. A life of hardship and uncer- 
tainty lay ahead of us. 

As a boy I succeeded in joining the expedition of the 
well-known explorer of Altai and Mongolia, V. V. Sapoj- 
nikoff, in the capacity of collector-zoologist. With him I 
first saw nature in the wild, often visiting places not yet 
shown on maps; one summer we travelled through road- 
less territory for more than 2,000 kilometers on horseback. 
This was the beginning of my work of exploration, which 


I later carried on independently. For a while I acted as a 
zoologist for such expeditions and then became the leader 
in a series of scientific expeditions to the Altai and Sayan- 
skii Mountains, to Mongolia, to the Tian-Shan Mountains, 
the Amur, the Ussurisk region on the Siberian-Manchurian 
border and to Lapland. 

I believed that regular study was unnecessary and that 
I could succeed without it. Already earning my living at an 
early age, I was engaged in various activities such as prepar- 
ing scientific materials and drawing anatomic charts. The 
necessity of earning more money gave me the thought of 
studying ichthyology the science of fish a subject 
which I felt had a wide practical application. I, therefore, 
undertook to get a knowledge of the sea and became pro- 
ficient in the use of oars and sails. But I finally realized 
that the specialized work in which I wished to be engaged 
demanded a technical training and so I entered the uni- 
versity. The War interrupted my studies there and when 
I returned again to private life I was crippled. At first it 
seemed as though I should never regain my health, but 
within a year I was able to discard my crutches and, 
although still lame, go on a scientific expedition to the 

Later I did receive a university diploma and was offered 
a steady position, but it was not long before the Revolution 
broke the normal course of my life and the institution 
where I worked was closed by the Bolsheviks. But I lost 
nothing in the Revolution, for like many others I had 
nothing to lose. 

During the general disorganization which followed this 
upheaval in Russia, when hunger and cold had to be corn- 
batted not only for myself, but also for my wife and for the 
third and newest member of our family who required 
warmth and milk, I obtained several jobs, each of which in 
the " capitalistic " world would have been considered of 


high standing and would have enabled my family to live 
in comfort. But in the U.S.S.R. the only job that was allow- 
ing me a reasonable income was a course I was giving at 
the Agricultural Institute. This particular work I had 
sought out because it entitled me to a bottle of milk a day 
and sometimes a few beets and a little oats and mash which 
the professors of the Institute were allowed to have from 
the rations of the cattle which belonged to it. 

In spite of the hunger and cold, I succeeded during that 
winter in finishing my thesis and receiving a degree. And 
my scholastic work having thus been terminated, I agreed 
to take part in an expedition to Lapland, an expedition or- 
ganized by the " wealthy " Supreme Council of People's 
Economy. Before starting I tried to get one poud (36 Ibs.) 
of salt instead of the million paper roubles which were due 
me for the three months that the expedition was to last. 
This salt would have served my family as a means of ex- 
change in the villages for potatoes and milk. My request 
was rejected and I was told that salt in such a " large quan- 
tity " was not available, but I nevertheless went on the 
expedition because it interested me. 

The journey to our destination, a distance of 1,100 kilo- 
meters, was made in freezing weather in an unheated box 
car packed full of people and baggage and took fourteen 
days. Death among passengers in such cars was a usual oc- 
currence. The conditions of our expedition were most dif- 
ficult, but we still went on with our work with as much zeal 
and energy as we had given before the Revolution when 
we were never subjected to such trying situations. There 
was every reason why the Bolsheviks should have become 
convinced that the Russian intellectuals were working 
conscientiously and honestly. New discoveries of great 
importance and about which the Bolsheviks boast contin- 
ually were made by Russian scientists under the most diffi- 
cult conditions, but during the actual work of research not 


one of the Communist " party " men ever helped; they 
came forward only when and where it promised to be of 
advantage to their career. 

When in 1921 Lenin declared a respite the NEP 
(New Economic Policy) life changed with fantastic ra- 
pidity. The country began to prosper. Food and clothing 
became more available. One could then buy wood for fuel 
as well as for repairing. Electric light service was resumed 
as well as street car and taxi services. Life was returning to 
the " bourgeois " aspect under the leadership of the Bolshe- 
viks themselves. They came out with a new motto: " A 
Communist must be an industrialist and a trader." 

What did the intellectuals and scientists gain in this 
change? Their general living conditions improved, but as 
compared to the advance in the standard of living of other 
classes of the population they were left far behind. The 
campaign of economy affected first and hardest all scien- 
tific and educational institutions. The funds appropriated 
for them were so miserly that any typist in a commercial and 
industrial enterprise was receiving more pay than profes- 
sors and scientific experts. At the same time, due to con- 
tinually advancing prices for rent, street-car and railway 
transportation and postage, as well as for everyday necessi- 
ties, life for scientists not connected with any industrial 
organization was becoming exceedingly hard. 

In spite of these material hardships Russian scientists 
continued to work as before. At this time, however, the 
Bolsheviks, having gained strength through the NEP, be- 
gan an active persecution of any theoretical work which, 
according to their judgment, did not agree with the Marx- 
ist theories. I realized that my own scientific and theoreti- 
cal work was at an end. I felt that I was up against an im- 
passable wall. Life was hard. The career I had chosen for 
myself from the time of my youth, that career which I had 
stubbornly and persistently followed, could not go on. I 


must give up purely scientific work for a time at least 
and turn to something more practical. 

Early in 1925, at the time when the NEP was particularly 
flourishing, I was offered the post of Director of Produc- 
tion and Research Work of the North State Fishing Trust, 
the State-owned industry which had been set up to deal 
with the fishing business of the region on the Arctic Ocean. 
I accepted this offer in the hope that it would give me an 
opportunity to return to research work. And after a time, 
indeed, I was able to leave the production side and to or- 
ganize in Murmansk a scientific biological and technologi- 
cal laboratory. 

The North State Fishing Trust's work was carried on in 
that part of the Arctic Ocean which is called the Sea of 
Barents, the shores of which are for the most part Russian 
territory: the Murman coast of the Kola Peninsula, the 
Kanin Peninsula and the Lapland coast of the continent. 
Russian fisheries had existed here since the sixteenth cen- 
tury, but the conditions of life were so hard that only about 
five hundred families had settled on the Murman coast 
as colonists, with other fishermen going there only for the 
Bummer fishing season. 

The Murman coast is exceptionally austere, its granite 
cliffs descending in steep steps and abrupt declines straight 
into the ocean. There is scarcely any vegetation; only those 
slopes sheltered from the wind are sparsely covered with 
grass and a few low-growing polar willows and birches. 
Elsewhere the only growth is moss and rock creepers. 
Patches of snow remain on the beach throughout the sum- 
mer. The ocean, however, never freezes and at tempera- 
tures of fifty degrees or more below zero the black water 
and floating ice are covered by a dense white fog. In winter 
the sun does not rise above the horizon. The settlements 
of the " colonists " are hidden from the winds in deep in- 
lets or built like birds' nests in the cliffs above the level of 


the tide which sometimes rises to a height of five meters. 
Some of these dwellings can be reached only by wooden 
ladders, one end resting on floating boats, the other reach- 
ing to the doorstep of the rain and wind-battered huts. 

The colonists earned their living by fishing and they, as 
well as the men who came only for the summer fishing sea- 
son, used the primitive methods of their ancestors three 
or four centuries ago the same deckless, clumsy open 
rowboats, trawl-lines (long lines with several thousand 
hooks baited with small fish to attract the cod) , or the 
hand-line with its sinker, hook and metal bait-fish. Ob- 
viously with such equipment, fishing could take place only 
near shore and depended entirely on the weather and the 
approach of fish from the deeper waters. 

Attempts to change to more modern methods and to go 
farther out into the open ocean had been made in pre-war 
times but they were unsuccessful because of insufficient 
capital. In the Barents Sea before the War only four Rus- 
sian trawlers were at work. 

After the Revolution and before the Reds came to Arch- 
angel, a fishing company had been formed by the industrial- 
ist Bezzubikoff with the participation of the Centrosouse 
(Central Union) . Twelve trawlers were procured from 
the government and remodeled for fishing purposes, but 
this company's activity was scarcely begun when it was 
stopped by the arrival of the Reds. These trawlers and 
their shore base near Archangel then became the founda- 
tion of the Soviet State fishery organization in the North. 

In spite of the fact that they began working with a con- 
cern that was already organized, there were great difficul- 
ties during the first years of this State enterprise. The Mur- 
mansk and Archangel Soviets were in a state of nearly open 
warfare against each other, a situation which meant a 
great deal because of the then prevalent " power of local 
government." As the trawlers' base was in Archangel (a 


port that is frozen seven months of the year) , the entire 
concern was looked upon as belonging to Archangel and 
the Murmansk authorities would not allow the trawlers to 
enter their ports which were open the year around. There- 
fore the trawlers could work only five months in the year. 
No orders, threats or arguments from the " Centre " were 
of any avail. It was not until 1924 that the warring factions 
were brought together by the organization of a new con- 
cern, the North State Fishing Trust, of " All-Union impor- 
tance," with both the Archangel and Murmansk Soviets 
as " shareholders " and with the trawling base transferred 
to the ice-free port of Murmansk. 

Murmansk, the chief town of the province, had been 
founded in 1916 to serve as the terminus of the new, hastily 
erected railroad, built to bring to St. Petersburg military 
supplies furnished by the Allies. The town is on the Kola 
bay, sixty kilometers from the ocean, at a point where the 
bay narrows down to one and a half kilometers and rather 
resembles a wide river than an oceanic bay. Only the tide, 
which rises more than four meters, and the smell of salt 
water show that this is a part of the Arctic Ocean. High, 
rocky shores here bank in the bay and the town is built 
on a small and steep plateau. During the World War there 
was some construction here landing places, repair shops, 
a temporary electric power station, a primitive system for 
bringing water down from a mountain lake above the 
town, and only the most indispensable buildings, built like 
barracks. There were no real nouses in the town, only some 
so-called " trunks," dwellings made out of sheets of corru- 
gated iron bent to form a half-cylinder, the base of which 
was boarded in. There were no streets or sidewalks, no 
horses or automobiles; in winter the Laplanders drove in 
on reindeer. Twice a week the mail came in by train. Win- 
ter lasted not less than eight months, more than two months 
of which were complete night. 


The authorities o the town members of the GPU, 
the executive committee and other indispensable Soviet 
organizations were Communists, banished to this deso- 
late spot as punishment for theft or drunkenness. And 
all their energies were spent in trying to be recalled. 

Those of us who went to Murmansk in 1925, to take our 
several special parts in the organizing and carrying on of 
this new State industry, did so of our own volitions, for at 
that time there was no compulsory assignment of experts 
to such work, and we could all have found employment 
elsewhere. But the newness and the scope the very chal- 
lenge of the enterprise, which was planned on an un- 
precedented scale, beckoned to us. This was to be the first 
great Russian trawling development. We, like the English 
and the Germans, would now go out into the open ocean. 
We would be laying the foundations of a tremendous in- 

From the very beginning of our work, the business began 
to develop with remarkable success. The experts of the 
North State Fishing Trust, by systematizing the data they 
were receiving, learned to know the Sea of Barents and its 
fish life as did none of the other scientific organizations 
working in that region. 

We did not expect any praise or even recognition of our 
work in Sovietland this is not the custom but we 
could not fail to love it, in spite of the terrible conditions 
under which we had to live. To the yearly catch of the local 
fishermen, which remained at its former figure of about 
9,000 tons, we added a rapidly increasing catch which in 
1929 reached 40,000 tons. This result was attained not only 
by the addition of several new trawlers, but chiefly by basic 
improvements in the work year-round fishing, the speed- 
ing up of each trawler's turnover and the improvement of 
fishing technique. 

The methods of curing fish were also radically changed. 


Instead of stinking cod unfit to bring into the house, we 
produced white and clean fish, not inferior to that of Astra- 
khan. And for the first time, the Trust succeeded in deliv- 
ering fresh sea fish to the Leningrad and Moscow markets 
and was at last even successful in exporting fish to the 
English market. Our success had not been equalled by any 
other fishing trust of the U.S.S.R. 

The whole enterprise was reorganized and with it the 
town of Murmansk itself. A large and excellently equipped 
harbor was built; a huge reinforced concrete warehouse of 
5,000 tons capacity with concrete tanks for salting fish; a 
three-story reinforced concrete refining factory for the 
manufacture of cod-liver oil; a by-product factory for the 
production of fodder flour out of fish waste all this in 
the course of four years. A refrigerating plant and a barrel 
factory were under way; a branch railroad was extended to 
the harbor; a water system installed for the use of the plant, 
a repair shop for ships and a temporary electric power sta- 
tion, since the city station was unable to give us as much 
electricity as we needed. Electric cranes were installed for 
unloading trawlers. 

Murmansk began to grow upon the solid foundation of 
a developing industry. Houses put up by the North State 
Fishing Trust were located with a certain order and so 
formed the first real streets in the town. Its population was 
increasing. From a town of barely fifty families it grew 
about as follows: in 1926 it had 4,000 inhabitants; in 1927 
7,000; in 1928 12,000; and in 1929 15,000. 

The greatest difficulties encountered were in the build- 
ing of or otherwise obtaining new ships. The limit of our 
dreams was to have seventeen new trawlers, as seventeen 
of our old ones, taken over from the navy and rebuilt, were 
going out of commission on account of their age. However, 
Russian factories were not building them. To order them 
abroad foreign exchange was necessary and to obtain the 


authorization for such expenditure was extremely difficult. 
Orders must be placed through the Commissariat of Trade, 
which did not enjoy a reputation for honesty, and a Com- 
munist who knew nothing about the trade had to be sent 
abroad for the drawing up of contracts with the various 
firms. That a Communist, finding himself in " rotten, de- 
moralized" Europe, begins himself to get pleasantly de- 
moralized is a well-known fact, and our Communist was 
no exception to this rule. However, our North State Fish- 
ing Trust succeeded during these five years in purchasing 
one trawler abroad and building four, so that together with 
the old ones we finally had a total of twenty-two units. 

During these years the fishing industry throughout the 
U.S.S.R., like all the other Soviet industries, was required 
to plan production, and considering the hazards of our 
work, one can well understand that many difficulties might 
be encountered. To be able to foretell a year or more in 
advance just how much fish would be caught in a certain 
region, how much equipment would be necessary, as well 
as predetermining both the cost and the selling price of the 
finished product presented no small problem. The quota 
requirements were increased from year to year, but, in 
spite of the severity of the conditions under which our 
trawlers had to work and the difficult conditions of life in 
the Murmansk region, the North State Fishing Trust suc- 
ceeded in fulfilling each year these plans. During these 
years of its development up to 1929 it was making a real 
profit, so exceptional an occurrence in the Soviet fishing 
industry that our Trust received the nickname of " White 

Our success was due to a number of causes. One was the 
fact that the enterprise was a new one, well organized, ap- 
plying new methods and striving all the time to improve 
its work. And no little credit was due to the small but 
highly efficient staff of non-party experts and the excep- 


tionally fine contingent of sea captains natural seamen, 
accustomed from childhood to the rugged conditions of 
Arctic navigation. With a few exceptions all of these men 
had worked for the State fishing industry in the North from 
its very foundation in 1920. Such a stable staff of employees 
was a rare exception in a Soviet enterprise, where the usual 
rate of turnover of employees was at least once a year. It was 
necessary to be a strong man to withstand the hardships of 
work under Arctic conditions and this work could retain 
only those who were truly loyal to it. In addition to these 
reasons, the change to year-round fishing, the finding of 
new fish banks, improvements in the loading and unload- 
ing of trawlers, all gave us increasing production for 
several years in succession, so that we were able to keep 
pace with the ever-increasing planned requirements. 

We clearly realized that such a happy state of things 
could not last forever and that a year would come when, 
because of senseless orders from above, we would not be 
able to make such increase in the catch as would be neces- 
sary to fulfill that year's plan. 

Up to 1929 we had been left to work in peace, relatively 
speaking as much so as is possible in the U.S.S.R. None 
of our experts had been either thrown into prison or exe- 
cuted by the Soviet Government. Then our Trust attracted 
the attention of the Government and this was the begin- 
ning of the failure and ruin of the whole business. 



OR a better understanding of the Soviet regimentation 
of industry in Russia and the resulting effect upon the 
North State Fishing Trust and all those connected with it, 
let me here explain the general procedure of Soviet plan- 
ning. As I have already said, in the earlier years plans had 
been called for on a yearly basis, setting a goal that in some 
branches of industry could not be reached. Due to the ex- 
treme instability of the economic and political programs 
of the government it was rare for a year to pass without 
radical changes being made in the preparations which had 
been planned there was disaster in many of the indus- 
tries, with considerable losses. 

How can one speak seriously of a planned economy in a 
state where everything is governed by the day, where those 
in power fling themselves from one extreme to the other, 
where all the factors controlling industry are unceasingly 
undergoing the most drastic changes and where the slogan 
of the moment is of more importance than any plan? 

It was under such conditions that in 1924 some organi- 
zations had received orders to draw up, in addition to their 
usual yearly plan, a five year plan of their work. The fol- 
lowing year all industries were ordered to draw up a five 
year plan for the period 1925-1930. Some industries were 
required to make plans for ten and even fifty years ahead. 
During the period from October i, 1925 to October i, 
1928 a five year plan had been drawn up anew every year, 


for, owing to drastic changes in political and economic con- 
ditions, the plan as originally drawn up could not be con- 
tinued into the next year. So it was, that in addition to the 
first or trial five year plan of 1924 four new five year plans 
were drawn up during a period of four years. The last of 
these, that of 1928-1933, became world famous as the Five 
Year Plan the Piatiletka. Rigid and detailed instruc- 
tions were given to all industries for drawing up their new 
five year plan and mention of any previous plan was held to 
be counter-revolutionary. Jokes concerning how many 
years the first year of the Piatiletka was going to last became 
popular. According to directions received from above the 
work was to be undertaken in a " new way." The " indices 
of production " called for unexampled growth of all indus- 
tries. Enormous sums in chervontzi the greatly devalu- 
ated Soviet currency were appropriated as well as a re- 
stricted amount of foreign currency. From the speeches of 
leaders and from the press it was clear that the Five Year 
Plan would turn into a political slogan rather than an in- 
dustrial plan, a slogan which would serve to mark and at 
the same time mask a turn to the left and a return to the 
pre-NEP Communistic experiment. 

For us who had to deal with the practical problems of 
production under this Five Year Plan, the plan consisted 
of a multitude of sheets of tabulations which, due to their 
large size, we called " bed sheets." Figures compiled by 
expert statisticians for five years hence were supposed to 
represent future work and achievements in strict accord- 
ance with the instructions received. Material requirements 
had to be completed for every year of the five though pre- 
liminary projects could not be prepared before the plan 
was approved. It had been possible to prepare the yearly 
plans with some degree of accuracy because those in charge 
of the various enterprises had had experience. The Five 
Year Plan, however, demanded a development which no 


producer could actually visualize, and to reach the " con- 
trol figures " required estimating by pure imagination. 

Each unit or department of an industry drew up its own 
five year plan with great care. These plans were then com- 
bined by the management of the industry and sent to the 
" Centre " in Moscow. There the plans were again com- 
bined into larger units until a whole industry in each 
Commissariat was combined, and lastly, these plans from 
all the Commissariats were sent to the State Planning Com- 
mission and incorporated into a final general plan. The 
results were multitudes of tabulations by which it was pos- 
sible, for instance, to see where and how much roofing 
iron, shoes, caviar, horseshoe nails, tractors, wheat, pork, 
eggs, milk, butter, fish and so on would be produced and 
also how they would be used at any given moment of the 
Five Year Plan. These tables also showed how much any 
article produced in each year of the five would cost, the 
quantity and quality of man power necessary at a given 
moment in any branch of industry, the wages for every 
category of labor, the housing requirements, in fact, every 
conceivable detail. Such was the plan sternly decreed for 
the next five years. In the face of the ever increasing short- 
age of food and other necessities, the need of sacrifice for 
the first two or three years of the working of the plan was 
stressed, but future benefits were widely advertised and 
promises made that ultimately the plan would bring higher 
wages and an ample supply of food and clothing. 

Soon the government press there is no other in the 
U.S.S.R. began spreading the news that some concerns 
had decided to accomplish their part of the Five Year Plan 
in four, three or even two years, praising this as the highest 
degree of enthusiasm on the part of the workers. And it 
appeared that within a comparatively short time some had 
already not only fulfilled their plan, but were exceeding it. 
If, however, the Five Year Plan had been a really workable 


plan, any deviation, whether over-fulfillment or the op- 
posite in any given industry, would necessarily cause gen- 
eral disruption. If, for instance, our Fishing Trust had 
caught twice as much fish as the plan called for, twice the 
salt would have immediately been needed, twice the pack- 
ing material, transportation facilities and labor. If the 
shipbuilding trust had fulfilled its quota of trawlers in 
advance of the fixed time, harbor facilities would not have 
been available and the capacity of the fishing industry 
would not have been in a position to put them to use. 

So it was that, instead of the working out of an orderly 
plan, chaos prevailed. There was a catastrophic shortage of 
building materials, and many State enterprises sent special 
agents and representatives to various towns of the U.S.S.R. 
where, by personal contact and enterprise, they strove to 
divert materials already assigned to other industries. Often 
substitutes of inferior quality had to be used. Many build- 
ings remained without roofs or window glass. Some fac- 
tories were without machines, and in the case of others 
machinery lay in barns because the factory buildings were 
not ready. There was a shortage of qualified labor and in 
many places inferior labor had to be employed. 

Before long the Political Bureau of the government 
began to interfere directly in the work of the different 
branches of industry and even with separate units and, as 
will be seen in the case of the fishing industry, to raise their 
Plan quotas even in the middle of a year, so that by the 
end of the first year of the Piatiletka it was evident that 
nothing remained of the so-called Five Year Plan devised 
only the year before and both industry and government 
were working and building at random. 

In our North State Fishing Trust before the introduc- 
tion of the Five Year Plan we had, like other enterprises, 
been endeavoring to develop our business, to obtain larger 
apropriations, to increase our production and to speed up 


the building of ships and new plants. In those days we were 
continually being held back by the " Centre " and had had 
to struggle hard for every facility granted us. Now it was 
exactly the reverse, for categorical instructions were being 
received from the " Centre " to " expand" at a rate which 
corresponded neither to the supply of materials to be had 
nor to the available labor. 

Thus, for instance, in the early part of 1928, after two 
years of effort, we had at last obtained authorization to 
purchase ten trawlers abroad. This license, however, was 
revoked before our representative, who had already left 
for Germany, had had time to give the order, and we had 
begun to doubt whether our seventeen antiquated trawl- 
ers could be replaced before they were worn out or 
wrecked. Now, however, everything was suddenly changed, 
and in the latter part of the year, after the inauguration 
of the Piatiletka, we were ordered to consider, in planning 
our operations for the next five years, the construction of 
seventy new trawlers and an increase of catch to 175,000 
tons per year. This meant developing an enormous enter- 
prise. Our trawling base, built in 1926-27, could not 
handle at the most more than one third of this amount and 
our pier was barely large enough to service the number o 
trawlers we then had. Extensive construction work must 
be undertaken under extremely hard conditions and at 
any cost. 

In the summer of 1929, when conditions, especially in 
Murmansk, had become so difficult that the question arose 
more than once whether any construction work whatever 
could be continued, when workmen were fleeing because 
of insufficient food rations, when in spite of all efforts pro- 
duction was lagging behind the plan by ten or fifteen per 
cent, the North State Fishing Trust received the following 
laconic telegraphic instructions from Moscow: Change the 
Five Year Plan, basing the new figures on 150 new trawlers 


and a catch per ship of 3,000 tons per year, instead of the 
previously estimated 2,500. Three consecutive telegrams 
further increased the assignment, bringing the number of 
trawlers up to 500 and the yearly catch up to 1,500,000 
tons! x 

The order was unaccompanied by any directions or ex- 
planations, its form was categorical and without appeal. 

If one takes into consideration that the whole of pre-war 
Russia, which in the fishing industry competed for first 
place in the world, had in all its fisheries taken together 
Caspian, Azof and Black Seas, Siberia and the Far East 
produced only 1,000,000 tons of fish a year, and that fish- 
eries were numbered in the thousands and the labor 
employed by them in hundreds of thousands, it will be- 
come clear how unreal and impractical were the figures of 
the new Plan for a fishing trust which had been founded 
only a few years before and, furthermore, was situated be- 
yond the Arctic Circle in a town of only 15,000 inhabitants. 

What happened? The President of the Board of Direc- 
tors at once decided that he must go to Moscow, leaving 
the difficult and unpleasant task of solving the problem to 
others. A brief description of this man will perhaps explain 
how a man holding such an important position could be- 
have in such a cowardly manner. T. A. Mourasheff who 
was, of course, a Communist, had been clever enough to 
pick up a few superficial ideas of the fishing business; he 
could talk glibly enough of the affairs of the Trust and he 
produced on the uninitiated the impression that he was a 
man of business experience. Formerly a roofer, he had 
been deported to Kem in 1905 for participation in the ac- 
tivities of the Socialist Party. There he had married a 

i Shortly after this it was announced that, due to exceptional progress, 
the Five Year Plan was to be completed in four years, namely, by the first 
of January, 1932. In the course of three years we were, therefore, required 
to increase our normal yearly catch of 40,000 tons to 1,500,000 tons that 
is to say, multiply it by nearly forty. 


school teacher who seems to have supported him until the 
Bolshevik Revolution broke out. At that time he became 
a Communist, left Kern and his wife and went to Lenin- 
grad to make a career. There he immediately obtained the 
important position of superintendent of the water supply 
and sewer system, but made some slip and was sent to Mur- 
mansk to direct the fishing industry. When the North State 
Fishing Trust was formed he was made its president. He 
did not know and did not like the business, believing that 
for such a great man it could serve only as a stepping-stone 
to a more responsible position in the " Centre." As life in 
Murmansk was hard and dull, he spent most of his time in 
supposed business trips to Moscow and Petrograd, at health 
resorts taking reducing treatments, but chiefly abroad, 
where he spent months at a time. 

Here is a little scene typical of this man. His new wife 
I don't know whether it was his third or fourth a 
stenographer of the Berlin " Torgpred " (Soviet Trade 
Organization) , was coming direct from Germany on the 
newly built trawler, Bolshevik. All the Murmansk authori- 
ties and the workmen of the fisheries, with a band, as- 
sembled at the wharf to meet the new trawler. When the 
boat arrived, Mourasheff, as President of the Trust, as- 
cended the captain's bridge and delivered a speech, boast- 
ing of the fact that the Bolsheviks had been able to force 
the Germans to write the name " Bolshevik " on the 
trawler built for the U.S.S.R. and of the awe-inspiring 
meaning of this word to Europe. 

For the great occasion Mourasheff had changed the for- 
eign-made suit and rich fur coat he usually wore for an 
old, worn overcoat, but the foreign typist standing on the 
deck gave him away completely by her greeting. 

" Whom did we come to welcome," joked the workmen, 
" the new trawler or the fourth wife? " 

" It's only the third one, I tell you I " 


" No, it's the fourth. As if we didn't have enough women 
here already! " 

But such shortcomings were not his only defects. He was 
ready at any moment to denounce the best workers, of 
whose honesty he had no doubt, just as he would betray 
the interests of the business if this could benefit him in 
any way or save him from harm. 


LFTER the President of the Board of Directors, Moura- 
sheff, went to Moscow his assistant, the Vice-President, 
a canny peasant, in order to shift the responsibility from 
his own shoulders, called an " enlarged conference " of the 
Board, summoning to it all the "non-party" experts and 
department managers. The Vice-President, like his im- 
mediate predecessor, was a peasant from the Archangel dis- 
trict who had joined the party after the Revolution, an 
illiterate drunkard who had served in the GPU and, being 
a representative of the Archangel Executive Committee, 
was ready to bring about the ruin of the fishing business 
in Murmansk. He and his Communist associates knew 
nothing about the fishing business nor did they even try 
to learn; they knew well that they could obtain anything 
they desired through the GPU and that the chief thing in 
business was to avoid responsibility. One of the vice-presi- 
dents during this period became quite proficient in that 
respect. He learned to write on reports " Refer to So-and- 
So for resolution." A report can probably be found even 
now in the files of the North State Fishing Trust on which 
at the Leningrad office of the fisheries this vice-president 
made the notation " Refer to the Murmansk office," and a 
few days later, having returned to Murmansk and finding 
that the report had not yet been taken care of, he wrote 
underneath his previous notation the words: " Refer to the 
Leningrad office " and sent it back. 


The Vice-President opened the " enlarged conference " 
solemnly by reading a telegram which the president had 
sent after reaching Moscow. In the telegram he repeated 
the requirements and stated that they were definite: 500 
trawlers and 1,500,000 tons of fish per year by January ist, 
1933 and he called upon the entire staff to strain every 
effort and fulfill this plan. 

Then came the Vice-President's speech. The real reason 
for the terrifically large assignment now came to light. It 
was plain, from his talk, that this assignment had come di- 
rectly from the Political Bureau itself, and not from the 
Moscow organizations in charge of the fishing industry. 
The affair had deep roots. Peasants driven by force into 
Collectives (Communal farms) had destroyed their cattle 
and other live stock so thoroughly that the country was 
left without meat, butter, milk or poultry, and there was 
no hope of obtaining these products for the next few years. 
It was first decided to raise pigs, which multiply quickly, 
but that project had not succeeded. Then it was remem- 
bered that in 1919 and 1920 fish had saved the urban popu- 
lation from starvation. Fish are plentiful in the sea, do not 
require to be raised, watched or fed, they need only be 
caught. Fish, therefore, must help the population to live 
through the period of " disorganization and growth " and 
thereby help to establish the foundation of Socialism. Thus 
fishing had become no longer simply an economic prob- 
lem; it was now a political problem. So it was that the total 
amount of fish which had to be caught was figured out by 
the " Centre " and then allocated to the various districts, 
the share of the North State Fishing Trust coming to 
1,500,000 tons. Each trawler must catch 3,000 tons per 
year and, therefore, the number of trawlers must be in- 
creased to 500. The money necessary for this expansion 
was assigned, or rather was promised. 

From his two hour speech it was impossible to under- 


stand the Vice-President's own attitude towards the new 
demand. He announced the figures with exaltation: " One 
and a half million tons! Almost one hundred million 
ponds! That's no joke! These scientists here (nodding at 
me) say that England has been developing its fishing in- 
dustry for many centuries, has many ports and harbors and 
2,000 trawlers and her catch is only half a million tons 
a year, but we, in three years, will catch in our Trust alone 
one and a half million tons! One trust three times more 
than all of Englandl " 

At this point he evidently remembered that we actually 
had nothing, that seventeen of our twenty-two trawlers 
were obsolete, that the new ones built in Germany were 
unreliable, and that we had no harbor to accommodate the 
large number of proposed ships. Energetically scratching 
his head and other parts of his body, he then continued: 
" Well, it is necessary, in a word, to make a great effort. 
... It is necessary, in a word, comrades, to try and . . . 
and . . . brace up, and in the meantime, in a word, it is 
necessary to talk it over because the problem is very seri- 
ous, very serious. Well, who wishes to speak, to talk it over, 
in a word? " 

For us " to talk it over " was no easy task. The Vice- 
President and the other party men understood as well as 
we did that the assignment was impossible to fulfill and 
that it would unavoidably result in the ruin of the enter- 
prise and probably of the whole Russian trawling busi- 
ness. But what did they care about the enterprise and the 
Russian fishing industry! Yesterday this very vice-president 
had been in the lumber industry, had ruined it and given 
his experts away to the GPU; now he was about to take 
part in the wrecking of the fishing industry and would 
doubtless give us away; and so he would pass on to some 
other business. A " party " ticket, together with submission 
to the " general line," guaranteed him full immunity from 


responsibility. The " party " men knew perfectly well that 
we were the ones who would be held responsible. They 
were now waiting for us to speak, no doubt inwardly jeer- 
ing, " What are you going to say now? Are you in a hole? 
Experts, scientists, how are you going to get out of it? " 

They knew very well, that if one of us dared to express 
the thought each of us had in his mind that the assign- 
ment could not be fulfilled he would immediately be 
accused of sabotage, of " wrecking " the work of the North 
State Fishing Trust. Such views on our part would be 
called a " bold attack on the part of the class enemy" and 
then would come the GPU prison Solovki or 
death. On the other hand, if we now remained silent, then 
in a year, or at the utmost in two, when the plan fell 
through, we would be blamed for not having objected to 
it, and the plan itself would be attributed to us as a 
"wrecking plan," and then the GPU prison So- 
lovki or death. 

To keep silent would at least defer the day of reckoning, 
but in spite of this we all spoke up and, without using the 
dangerous words " impossible " and " unfulfillable," con- 
scientiously pointed out all the obstacles: that the Five 
Year Plan adopted in 1928, under which work had been 
already carried on for a year, together with the projects 
of new constructions actually under way would be can- 
celled by the new plan. All construction work would have 
to be stopped and a new plan and new projects in con- 
formity with the new assignments would have to be drawn 
up. It would be fruitless to continue building a barrel fac- 
tory and a refrigeration plant for a 175,000 ton catch when 
the assignment had now been changed to 1,500,000 tons. 
New construction plans, with all their preliminary draw- 
ings and specifications, would have to be drawn up. The 
new projects would necessarily be so complicated, varied 
and enormous that we would have to enlarge our offices to 


take care of it all. Moreover, such a huge construction 
would necessitate an extensive prospecting o the shore 
zone of the gulf and the adjacent region, and the cost of 
this new work would amount to approximately a thousand 
million roubles. 

Under the most favorable conditions it would be pos- 
sible to begin working on the preliminary projects in 
January 1930. One year would be needed to complete 
them; it would, therefore, be not until January 1931 that 
they, together with the new plan, would be presented for 
approval. They then would have to pass, according to the 
established routine, through a number of administrative 
organizations: The Fishing Directorate, the Construction 
Directorate, the Scientific Technical Committee, and re- 
ceive their final approval by the People's Commissariat. 
Many of the projects would have to pass through additional 
stages: the Refrigeration Committee, the Port Committee, 
Public Health Commissariat, War and Navy Commis- 
sariat, and many others. If everything went smoothly and 
no project was turned down, this routine procedure xvould 
take a half a year, so that the preliminary projects would 
be finally approved in July 1932 and only then work on 
final plans, working drawings and specifications could be 
started. They would be completed in 1933. But the Five 
Year Plan, as every one of us was only too well aware, 
had to be fulfilled by January i, 1933. So by January i, 
1932 we were required to have in use 300 trawlers and 
increase our "catch up to 1,000,000 tons per year, at which 
time even the preliminary projects would not yet be ready. 
How could such difficulties be overcome? 

Attention was drawn to the fact that the Murmansk 
single-track railway, even as things were, found it difficult 
to handle the available freight, and the projected expan- 
sion would require the daily movement of two hundred 
cars of fish alone, not to mention the other freight. A sec- 


ond track would have to be built, no easy job 1,500 
kilometers over hills and through swamps. 

And the labor problem! Murmansk had a population of 
only 12,000 to 15,000 and already living quarters were 
greatly over-crowded. With the projected expansion the 
number of workmen would have to be increased at least 
to 50,000 men who, with their families, would bring the 
total population up to 200,000 people. For such an increase 
it would be necessary to build not only houses, but also 
bath-houses, schools, stores, canalization, an electric power 
station, and so on, and this building development, in its 
turn, would lead to a further increase of the population. 
The building of a new town and a railroad could not be 
undertaken by a fishing enterprise, yet without this con- 
struction the fishing plan could not be fulfilled. 

The training of ships' crews would also present con- 
siderable difficulties; 25,000 men would be needed for the 
servicing of the 500 trawlers, including 2,000 pilots and as 
many mechanics, and 300 skippers and 300 mechanics 
would be required yearly for filling vacancies. Futher- 
more, the skippers would have to be specially trained to 
know not only navigation, but also how to hunt for fish 
banks, how to catch the fish and how to handle it. Already, 
with only twenty-two ships we were having difficulties in 
keeping a full staff of captains and mechanics. Now, in the 
remaining three years of the Five Year Plan we would 
have to build up a whole fleet. How could it be done? A 
skipper's diploma, or that of a mechanic, required gradua- 
tion from a high school, and a special four years' course at 
the marine school of technology. Only the Archangel Tech- 
nology prepared skippers for navigation in northern seas 
and it graduated every year only twenty-five skippers and 
twenty-five mechanics. To have a sufficient supply of cap- 
tains we would need eighty such technologies, with build- 
ings, instructors, school supplies and so on, not to mention 


the four thousand healthy young men with a high school 
education, who would be willing to give their lives to navi- 
gation on the rugged Arctic Ocean in small, dirty fishing 
vessels. Furthermore, we would have to have radio opera- 
tors, specialists in trawling, salting, and many other second- 
ary specialists and technicians. 

All this, we pointed out, should be brought immediately 
to the attention of the Government, for we had no right to 
conceal the true situation. We knew very well that in spite 
of convincing arguments, in spite of all the evident ab- 
surdity of the Plan, nobody would listen to us, but we were 
doing our duty. 

One of the representatives of the " workers-ownership " 
replied to us. He was just a boy, a real Communist and a 
" confirmed Marxist." He sat with his cap on, his face dull 
and cruel. What he said was well known to everyone and 
could serve for every occasion, chiefly quotations from edi- 
torials of provincial " Pravdas " published in every town 
from Vladivostok to Murmansk. 1 

" Comrades! Our party and government positively under 
the leadership of our leader, Comrade Stalin, are certainly 
making unheard-of strides in the development of our indus- 
try as such. They certainly are realizing the motto ' over- 
take and outstrip ' the capitalistic countries struggling in 
the clutches of a world crisis which, due to the joined ef- 
forts of the proletariat, is becoming a real fact. 

" It is necessary, comrades, to strain every effort and as 
correctly pointed out by Comrade President in a word 
to brace up. Unquestionably the assignment of the party 
and government must be fulfilled and exceeded, accom- 
plishing the Piatiletka as such in a minimum of four 
years." (Words like minimum and maximum were always 
being wrongly used by such orators.) 

i Pravda is the Russian word for " truth." This newspaper is the official 
organ of the Communist Party. TRANSLATOR. 


" Here we have listened to various references and vari- 
ous facts. Of what use are they? Bourgeois parasites insert 
themselves into the ranks of the proletariat by means of 
sallies of the class enemy; this is of no use either. 

" Comrades, we must unite into a steel wall and fight 
with all our proletarian determination and healthy self- 
criticism. We must strike a hard blow against those who 
deserve it. We must engage in a pitiless fight against Leftist 
deviations as well as against Rightist leanings which rep- 
resent the chief danger in the given stage of development 
whatever side they come from. Certainly we all, as one man, 
will defend the plan and the ' general line ' of workers' 
enthusiasm as such. ' Shock work ' and ' Socialistic competi- 
tion ' should, certainly, be carried out without forgetting 
for a minute leadership and workers' initiative and inven- 
tiveness. We unquestionably must, comrades, not only 
fulfill . . ." 

" Shut up, Kolka, stop agitating," interrupted his neigh- 
bor, also of the same species of the " self-conscious." " We 
have been sitting here for four hours and I have two more 
meetings to attend to-day. Keep closer to business, present 
the workers' resolution." 

" All right, comrades. As it is getting late, unquestion- 
ably, I offer concretely not only to fulfill but, of course, 
even to exceed by 120 per cent the government's assign- 
ment; also to decisively disregard the objections raised by 
the opponents and to accomplish the Piatiletka as such 
in a minimum of two and a half years." So saying, he sat 

The workers' resolution was not discussed. The Board, 
however, decided to send a report to the Moscow Fishing 
Directorate pointing out all the difficulties which lay in 
the way of fulfillment of the assignment and asking for 

The meeting adjourned. The Vice-President, with a 


worried expression on his face, went up to the " representa- 
tive " who had spoken at the meeting; one could hear that 
he was scolding him. 

" What's all this nonsense you were talking? We don't 
know what to do. This isn't the time to antagonize these 
experts it's exactly the time we need them." 

The representative gave the following as his defense: 
" In the true Bolshevik spirit of not dodging an issue, 
Comrade President, I must recognize my mistake, but all 
this is unquestionably the result of my having a headache. 
I was drunk yesterday." 

And so the meeting ended. 



E came away from the meeting thoroughly discour- 
aged, and we spoke freely to each other. " It is senseless to 
work any longer for the Trust." "Yes, within a year 
their plan will fail and they'll begin to look around for the 
' guilty '; try to prove your innocence then! " " But they 
can't send us to any place worse than Murmansk." 

Another cautioned us, " Never forget the Soviet saying: 
'Whoever is not in prison will be there; whoever was 
in prison will return there/ " And, finally, still another 
added: " I handed in my resignation to the president after 
that first telegram about the 150 new trawlers, but he 
wrote ' refused ' on it and added that he did not ' advise ' 
my making such an ' attempt.' " 

Nevertheless, when later I made a trip to Moscow, I 
asked to be transferred to some other place or to be dis- 
charged. The Chief Director of the Fisheries, a Communist, 
answered literally as follows: " We consider your work at 
the North State Fishing Trust so valuable that we cannot 
allow you to leave and, if necessary, we will find, with the 
help of the GPU, a way to make you work.", 

Possibly it may seem, to persons tainted with a " rotten 
liberalism," that since we could neither resign nor obtain 
transfer to another post, all of us at the Trust were actually 
working under compulsion and were not free men. I will 
not discuss that question here, but it leads me to speak of 


that unmistakable slavery forced labor which I first 
met at Murmansk in 1928 and observed in the years that 
followed, until my own turn came. 

That autumn (1928) , under the pressing requirements 
of the Five Year Plan, the North State Fishing Trust had 
been faced with the problem of finding highly qualified 
specialists, such as engineers and ship-builders, willing to 
go to Murmansk with its vile climate and wretched living 
conditions, when they could easily find occupation in Len- 
ingrad, Moscow or some southern town. 

All the efforts of the Trust were in vain. The situation 
seemed hopeless. The labor exchange offered to enlist, 
under a contract, first-year students from various special 
technical schools, giving them scholarships for four to five 
years until they graduated. But the Piatiletka had to be 
completed by the time these young men could finish their 
education. Construction work had to be started at once. 
The Trust needed engineers who were already experi- 
enced; it had no time to train new men. 

Finally, one of the Communist workers had the brilliant 
idea of applying to the GPU. We had heard a rumor that 
the GPU traded in experts, with a large number of engi- 
neers of every specialty at its disposal, but we somehow 
could not believe it. The Communist Bagdanoff, the man- 
ager of our Trust, was asked to make inquiries. The rumor 
was confirmed and he set out for Kern, the administration 
center for the famous Solovetzki concentration camp, with 
instructions to purchase a whole squad. 

Within a few days he had returned, his mission success- 
fully accomplished, but the Kern impressions were too 
strong for even a Communist to keep to himself and he 
could not refrain from talking about them even to us non- 
party men. 

"Can you imagine that there (the administration of 
the Solovetzki camp) the following expressions are freely 


used: ' We sell! ' 'We discount for quantity! ' ' First 
class merchandise! ' ' The city of Archangel offers 800 
roubles a month for X. and you offer only 600 1 . . . What 
merchandise! He gave a course in a university, is the author 
of a number of scientific works, was director of a large fac- 
tory, in pre-war time was considered an outstanding engi- 
neer; now he's serving a ten-year sentence at hard labor for 
" wrecking "; that means that he'll do any kind of work 
required of him, and yet you quibble over 200 roubles! ' 
Nevertheless, I bargained and they finally agreed to reduce 
the price, because we purchased at wholesale fifteen engi- 
neers. I picked out wonderful men! Look at the list: K.., 
shipbuilding engineer, one of the best in the U.S.S.R. 
he used to get rations of the rd category as a scientist; P., 
electrical engineer, has been director of the electrical in- 
dustry in Moscow; K. and E. are architects with wide ex- 
perience. And all of them are sentenced for ' wrecking * 
that means they will do conscientious work." 

"What are the terms of this purchase? " I asked, uncon- 
sciously lowering my voice, so monstrous did the question 

" The men we buy are entirely at our disposal," replied 
the manager; " we may detail them to any kind of work 
and to any responsible position. The GPU guarantees 
them and they are under the surveillance of the local GPU. 
We aren't held liable in case they escape. The GPU, how- 
ever, is sure they won't escape, because they all have wives 
and children, living in other towns, who are actually 

" We pay the GPU monthly 90% of the agreed rental 
and the remaining 10% we give to the prisoner according 
to his work. As we pay a much higher price for them than 
the established tariff, they are ranked as experts in respect 
to work and no time limit applies to them. If we wish we 
can make them work twenty-four hours a day. The GPU 


attorney laughed when he said that we wouldn't be trans- 
gressing the labor laws if we disregarded the provisions 
about working hours, because the prisoners are sold as 
specialist-experts and have to work as such. 

" What scoundrels! " he added, after a moment of silence, 
remembering the scene of the purchase. 

" Did you actually sign a written agreement? " 

" Of course! Is it possible to trust the GPU without a 
contract? " 

" And all this is stated in the contract? " 

" Certainly. The lawyer approved the deal and the Chief 
of the camp, as well as the head of the department, signed. 
Everything was according to form." 

" And did you see ' them? ' v we asked. 

" No, I didn't look them over; it was a little embarassing. 
They offered to show them to me, but I bought them ac- 
cording to their papers." 

" Will they come to Murmansk soon? " 

" As soon as we send in our first payment. It's done very 
simply; they say that if they get our message even one hour 
before the train leaves they will immediately send out the 
whole group. Talk is short with prisoners there." 

" And if they refuse to work or do not fit the job? " 

" That's also taken care of. In case of a complaint on our 
part the purchased man is immediately removed from the 
job and sent back to the concentration camp, where he is 
disciplined. In his place another man of the same specialty 
and qualifications is sent out." 

" And if they do not have any? These are really excep- 
tional men." 

" Not have any? What are you talking about? They can 
get anyone they want. Besides, they have a good supply of 
' ready ones.' Some of the best engineers and professors are 
now working in lumber camps as woodcutters under con- 
ditions that are horrifying even to hear about. It's good 


passed almost unnoticed among the many new faces. Two 
of them were appointed to executive positions as chiefs of 
the technical and rationalization departments respectively. 
The new head of the technical department was the en- 
gineer K., a man already advanced in years but still excep- 
tionally energetic. He had the responsible post of directing 
all repairs of the fleet, the work of the machine shops, 
foundries and the power station. He was also in charge of 
the drawing up of projects for the enormous construction. 
Not only our Trust but practically all the other institu- 
tions and concerns in Murmansk were continually calling 
for his services as consultant. His expert advice was often 
sought by captains of foreign ships in need of repair, when 
they came to Murmansk to load lumber delivered from 
the forced-labor lumber camps of Solovki. Surely the for- 
eigners who dealt with tins man of authority did not 
realize that he was a convict, serving a ten-year sentence! 

The Planning Bureau of the Trust was also composed of 
purchased engineers. These " purchased men " lived in the 
new houses built by the Trust two or three men in each 
small room. A few boards laid on a trestle served as beds, 
a few stools and a board table as furnishings. They worked 
from early morning until late at night and they never 
talked of themselves or their iormer life in the concentra- 
tion camps. No one questioned them. It was known, how- 
ever, that they had families in dire need, whom they could 
not help, and that some had suffered confiscation of all 
their property at home. 

How many more years were they destined to live like 
this? It was a frightful thought. Nevertheless, theirs was 
the lightest form of forced labor. The other, which I also 
came in contact with while working in the North State 
Fishing Trust, that at Cape Zeleny, was much more hor- 
rible. As a part of the Five Year Plan, construction on a 
large scale was to be undertaken in Murmansk. A special 


wharf was to be built where the trawlers could take on coal, 
at some distance from the trawler base, to avoid the pene- 
tration of coal dust into the warehouses used for fishing 
products designed for export to England. The site selected 
was several kilometers north of the town, on the eastern 
side of the bay, near Cape Zeleny, where the land was high 
above the water and had to be dynamited and leveled. The 
Trust decided to employ a contractor for the excavation 
and dirt removal but, there being no private contractors in 
the U.S.S.R., did not resort to open bids, but sent specifi- 
cations to several State construction concerns, requesting 
them to name their prices. 

Quite unexpectedly, among the few competitors, the 
GPU intervened with a statement that it could do the work 
at a figure 10% below the lowest bid and in a shorter 
period than the specifications required. The Trust had to 
accept this offer of the GPU. One of the functions of the 
GPU was to watch over the economic activities of all en- 
terprises. Had its bid not been accepted, it would certainly 
have prosecuted the Trust for " wasting the people's 
money/' The Trust, therefore signed a contract with the 
GPU tor the job at Cape Zeleny, involving the expendi- 
ture of several hundred thousand roubles. 1 

i Besides the conn act at the North State Fishing Trust, the GPU ob- 
tained sevcial other contracts in Murmansk and was also electing buildings 
for the needs oi its own administration and employees, all this in only one 
relatively small section of the north-western region. 

Up to 1931 the GPU \\as the largest producer of export lumber in 
Karelia, besides building roads from the White Sea to the borders of Fin- 
land and engaging in extensive land reclamation work. In 1931, when, un- 
dei pressure from abroad, the GPU was forced to discontinue its lumber 
operations in Karelia, it turned to supplying wood for fuel to Moscow and 
Leningrad, to consttuctmg the canal joining the White Sea with 
the Baltic, and it enleied the fishing industry. From 1931 the GPU was 
the only organization successfully preparing salmon for the English market. 
In other sections of the U.S.S.R. the economic and construction activities of 
the GPU were still greater. I will not describe them as it would lead me 
too far afield. 


The reason for the low cost of the GPU work and pro- 
duction was no mystery they used convict labor alone: 
peasants as well as men of higher education, many of whom 
had university degrees. The engineering and technical 
personnel was also composed of prisoners. 

Labor and the supervisory personnel were brought to 
Murmansk from the Solovetzki camp, where they were 
serving sentences of from three to ten years for " counter- 
revolution " and " wrecking." They were not paid for their 
work; there were no fixed working hours; those who did 
not fulfill their quotas, figured on a sixteen hour basis, had 
to stay at their jobs until their assignments were completed 
and, in addition, they were deprived of bread rations and 
dinner and were not allowed to return to their camps for 
the night. It goes without saying that the GPU did not pay 
any premiums into the social insurance fund, which pre- 
miums, for other organizations, amount to as much as 22% 
of the total payroll. Neither did the GPU issue any cloth- 
ing, as other concerns were required to do; the laborers 
were dressed in the clothes they had on when arrested 
many of them were barefooted and half-naked. For those 
working on the Cape Zeleny construction temporary 
wooden barracks were erected. The uniformed "guard" 
composed of prisoners (criminals, bandits, Chekists and 
party-men who were under sentence for theft or other 
crimes) had better living quarters and larger food ra- 
tions. Only a few of them were free employees on salary. 

The work was done in a most primitive manner, by 
hand, with spades, picks and crowbars. When an un- 
limited free supply of labor is available mechanization is 
superfluous. The only item of expense was food for the 
prisoners and even that was not large one kilogram of 
black bread (baked by the prisoners themselves from flour 
furnished at a minimum price by State organizations) and 
a " dinner " of two courses, " soup," i.e., water with a small 
amount of grits, and " cereal," i.e., grits with a large 


amount of water. Under such a system as this, it can readily 
be seen that nearly all the money received by the GPU on 
their contracts was clear profit. 

The townspeople of Murmansk knew very little about 
the life of these prisoners. It was forbidden to talk to them 
or approach their barracks. At first their starved appear- 
ance, swollen or emaciated faces, their ragged clothing and 
bare feet excited horror, but later the people became ac- 
customed to the sight the sensitiveness of Soviet citizens 
has become dulled. The workmen and the peasants of 
Murmansk established a clandestine business intercourse 
with the wretched prisoners, some of whom contrived to 
do small repair jobs on household utensils which, due to 
a complete lack of such articles on the market, could not 
be replaced or repaired elsewhere. The method of pro- 
cedure was this: when the prisoners were being led to work, 
the article in need of repair would be shown to them from 
a distance and then dropped into an old barrel that was 
nearby. Next morning the repaired utensil would be re- 
turned with a slip of paper stating the price of the work, 
which was always amazingly small. On the following day 
money in payment would be deposited in the barrel. How 
the prisoners ever succeeded in accomplishing this work, 
sometimes quite complicated, at night and with great 
secrecy, is a mystery. It could be done only by men of long 
prison experience and driven by dire need. (My descrip- 
tion of this secret cannot hurt anyone in Murmansk now. 
Since the protests which appeared in the European press 
against forced labor, the GPU has discontinued its activi- 
ties in the districts visited by foreign ships and has trans- 
ferred its prisoners from Murmansk to enterprises in other 
sections of the country.) 

Isolated though they were, the most striking incidents 
in the life of these GPU prisoners were known in the town. 
The first was an epidemic of typhus at Cape Zeleny which, 
in the filth and crowded condition of the barracks, spread 


with amazing rapidity. A few cases appeared in the town 
itself and there was a panic. To localize the epidemic the 
GPU isolated the sick in special barracks, where they were 
left to die without any help or medical attention. The sec- 
ond incident was an attempt to escape in fact, two at- 
tempts. Only despair could have forced anyone to such an 
act. The country round Murmansk is most unfavorable: 
there are hills and great rocks piled up in such disorder 
that it is almost impossible to find one's bearings; the low- 
lands are covered with impassable swamps. Nevertheless, 
two bands of four men each obtained row-boats, crossed to 
the western side of the Kola Bay and set out towards the 
Finnish frontier. One band was rounded up by natives who 
were promised a bag of flour for their capture; the other 
four men perished from hunger and exposure. The cap- 
tured men were shot. 

A third incident was the execution of the engineer Tres- 
ter, who had supervised the building of GPU houses and 
had enjoyed considerable freedom of action. It was ru- 
mored that when the construction was completed Trester 
was taken under heavy guard back to Kern. There, accord- 
ing to the rumor, he was accused of " wrecking " and was 
shot because the construction had been finished two weeks 
behind schedule. Later I found out that this story was not 
quite exact; for the delay in construction Trester was 
sentenced to one year's solitary confinement at the Solo- 
vetzki camp and the GPU official who was taking him to 
his cell shot him on the way. I don't remember the name 
of this official but he was widely known for his excep- 
tional cruelty and for frequently murdering prisoners 
without cause. Such cases were usually reported as " shot 
in an attempt to escape." 

These were the only things the population of Murmansk 
knew about the life of the GPU slaves by whose hands the 
Five Year Plan was being carried out. 



JL c 

o resume my narrative: we, the " non-party " men, 
were discouraged and apprehensive as the winter months 
of 1930 wore on. The working force of the Trust was 
enormously increased. Two new members of the Board 
ot Directors appeared Communists, of course. They had 
no comprehension of our work, acknowledging freely that 
before their appointment to the Fishing Trust they knew 
fish only as an appetizer to go with vodka. Now one of them 
was the head of the rationalization and mechanization of 
the whole enterprise, while the other was to direct the con- 
struction of the trawling base which, according to the Pia- 
tiletka, was to be the largest and most up-to-date fish trad- 
ing harbor in the world. Both brought with them from 
Leningrad their own staffs complete, from engineers to 
typists, and went strutting about the base giving orders and 
loudly criticizing everything. 

Our station, which had been successfully accomplishing 
its practical work, was now to feel the effect of purely fan- 
tastic plans. The aim of die new administrators was not 
the dexelopmeiit of the fishing enterprise; their interest 
was only in construction. How could they now use our re- 
finery for medicinal oil, if its output was only 1,000 tons a 
year, when the new plan called for a factory with a 15,000- 
ton output? The newspapers reported every day similar 
ambitious increases in the plans of other industries. The 
program of the rubber trust was being increased tenfold; 


the output of the tractor center eightfold, and so on. News 
writers and the " directors " of the industries cited these 
as tremendous achievements, but we knew that it meant 
only the wrecking of what had already been accomplished. 
The Piatiletka was becoming the destroyer of all industry. 

It was sad to see our refrigeration plant, which we had 
begun to build after dreaming of it for so many years, de- 
molished because its capacity planned a year and a half be- 
fore was now considered too small. The foundations of the 
barrel factory were abandoned, because the plans were 
being changed. The wharves under construction, badly 
needed to serve the increasing number of trawlers, stood 
unfinished, awaiting new and more grandiose plans. It was 
heartbreaking to see the chaos. I tried to avoid, so far as I 
could, the scenes of destructive construction. My days, from 
eight in the morning to eleven at night, I spent entirely in 
my laboratory and, as I said at the beginning, my late 
evenings alone in my room. 

After the March night when the search of my little apart- 
ment occurred, as I have already related, the rumors that 
were being whispered everywhere made all of us " non- 
party " men feel that our position was fast becoming dan- 
gerous. The speed of the work inaugurated under the new 
Plan was being scrutinized; clearly something sinister was 
in the wind. The more impossible our task the more clearly 
we would be marked as the victims of those who set the 
task. Communists, too, were being questioned; this was 
their opportunity to even up old scores, to get rid of any 
possible rivals and by destroying us to improve their own 
chances of promotion. It was no secret, and soon everyone 
knew that they were " helping the GPU discover the 

The system of questioning was quite obvious: 

" Do you think that ' wrecking activities ' are possible 
in our Trust? " 


Generally the Communist witness thought them quite 

" Is it possible that the specialists have an anti-prole- 
tarian or anti-Soviet psychology and could, therefore, be 
' wreckers '? " 

" Undoubtedly, Comrade, the psychology of the special- 
ists is anti-proletarian, and they could certainly be 
' wreckers.' " 

These general ideas having been entered in the state- 
ment, the examining official would adopt a threatening 

" You know the punishment for false testimony? Belong- 
ing to the Communist party cannot save you. Your words 
are down in the deposition. Perhaps you can substantiate 
your accusations with facts? " 

The poor witness would willingly accuse the specialists 
of anything, but he was afraid of being held responsible. 
The examiner, seeing then that he was ready to sign any- 
thing, would help him with leading questions which he 
was expected to answer in the affirmative. 

" Were not the wrecking activities of Krotoff responsible 
for the poor catch at the fisheries last year? " 

" Quite right, Comrade," the witness would answer with 

" Did he not hold the trawlers in the harbor intention- 
ally? " 

" Yes, Comrade, he undoubtedly did." 

And thus the witness and the examiner arrived at a com- 
plete accord. 

The GPU could and did procure any amount of such 
" testimony," not only from Communists, but also from 
some of the non-party men frightened by threats of im- 
mediate arrest. I heard, for instance, that one of the old 
captains, S., gave his testimony in just such a way. This was 
of great value to the GPU, because the evidence supplied 


by Communists was rated rather cheaply even by the GPU 
itself, while S. was an old non-party worker, a specialist of 
many years' standing. Poor man! He was mentally unbal- 
anced. Twice he had suffered attacks of insanity at sea and 
both times the ship was brought into harbor by his mate. 
He could not be placed in a hospital for they were over- 
crowded; in consideration of his past services he was given 
a job on shore. He did not believe that he was sick; he 
still wanted to go to sea and considered he had a grievance. 
He was terribly afraid of the GPU. I was told that one of 
his comrades, also an old captain, asked him if he were not 
ashamed of his testimony. 

" But what could I do, if the GPU gave me orders? I 
didn't want to be shot. Besides, it serves them right for 
pushing an old man out of his job! " 

The situation was made still more hopeless by the fact 
that " witnesses " were not required to give concrete facts, 
but rather a psychological explanation whereby any simple 
act might be interpreted as intended to harm industry. 
Furthermore, if a " witness " did not categorically deny the 
possibility of wrecking intentions, the GPU assumed that 
the intentions had existed. 

My turn came at last. One morning I received a notice 
requiring me to be at the GPU office at six o'clock that 
evening. I notified the president of the Trust and as many 
of my co-workers as I could, hoping that, in case of my dis- 
appearance, the news would reach my wife. How many 
people in the U.S.S.R. left home after such a summons and 
never returned! I found an opportunity also to send a short 
note to Leningrad, telling my wife about the search and 
the numerous arrests, so that she would be prepared for 
any emergency. 

Slowly I approached the long building of the GPU. Like 
most houses in Murmansk it was not fenced in. The dirt 


around it was as bad as everywhere else; in front of it pigs 
wallowed in filthy garbage holes. 

The anteroom, or room for the orderlies, was divided by 
a low partition, behind which were two men in Red Army 
uniforms. One was turning the handle of an ancient tele- 
phone. The other one was yawning as he looked me over. 

" Who do you want? " 

I handed him the summons without a word. 

" You will have to wait." 

I sat on the bench, gloomily watching the hands of the 
clock that moved so slowly. The men were talking of what 
could be had in the cooperative store. At last a Red soldier 
came up to me. 

" Come! " 

He walked behind me down a corridor. Was I under 
arrest already, I wondered. 

The corridor was wide, dirty and dark. On the right a 
row of padlocked doors the cells where Scherbakoff and 
Krotoff, perhaps the most respected men in the Trust, 
must be. At the end of the corridor the guard told me to 
wait. Then he knocked lightly at one of the doors and led 
me into an office, with dirty wooden partitions, an un- 
paintcd floor, two tables, three chairs. At one of the tables 
sat a woman a stenographer, I thought. When she spoke 
I was astonished, for I could not imagine that the GPU 
official would be a woman. 

" Sit down, Comrade Tchernavin we have quite a lot 
to talk about." 

She pointed to the chair in front of her table. The lamp- 
light was shining on my face, the woman sat in shadow. 
She was small, thin, and pale, about thirty years old, 
with a dark complexion, harsh features and a big, unpleas- 
ant mouth. In front of her were two opened packages of 
cheap " Poushka " cigarettes, which she smoked incessantly, 
throwing the stubs on the floor. Her hands were shaking. 


It was my first real encounter with the GPU. The con- 
duct of my examiner seemed to me ridiculous, although 
apparently she was taking great pains when questioning 
me. At times she spoke in a friendly and sincere way, then 
suddenly she would search my face with a piercing look. 
In turn she was threatening and indignant, then kind and 
almost tender. Afterwards I learned that this is the accepted 
method of questioning used by the GPU agents. At the 
time, however, her behavior reminded me of a second- 
rate tragedienne on the provincial stage. It would have 
been very amusing if I had not known that I was com- 
pletely at the mercy of this unbalanced woman and her 
confederate, a tall Lett in a military uniform, who seemed 
dull and slow. 

The examination continued for six hours and the two 
examiners twice relieved each other. Four of the six hours 
of questioning were spent over one sentence: " So much 
the worse for them; it's all an absurdity, and let them take 
the consequences." 

Who said it? When? In what circumstances? I did not 
remember ever hearing this sentence and even now I do 
not know where they got it. 

" How do you explain this sentence? " asked the woman. 
" Don't you see ' wrecking ' in it? " 

" Wrecking? " I replied, puzzled. 

" Of course, wrecking; how can you explain it other- 
wise? I am very curious to hear your explanation." This 
was said threateningly. 

" I don't understand this sentence," I answered. " It has 
no meaning to me: I don't know what it is about, or who 
said it, in what circumstances or on what occasion." 

" It's no use, Comrade Tchernavin, trying to evade an- 
swering the question." 

I can't answer questions I do not understand." 

You understand perfectly that the person I won't 



name him yet who said it, referred to the Piatiletka as 
the ' absurdity ' imagined by the Soviet Government." 

" How could I know it? " said I, trying painfully to 
remember whether I had ever uttered those words. No, I 
could not have said them; but then, who could? It might 
have been Mourasheff, the Communist president of the 
Trust; at one time he had not minced his words about the 
Five Year Plan. 

" Now you can admit that it is wrecking," insisted the 

" Excuse me, why is this wrecking? " 

" So you think it is all right? " 

" I did not say so." 

" Then it is wrong? Answer me! Is it right or wrong? " 
she insisted, getting angry. " Well ? " 

" To say that the Piatiletka is an absurdity is wrong." 

" Only wrong? I think it is criminal." 

I remained silent. 

" So you don't see wrecking in this sentence," she per- 

" I don't understand how one can see wrecking in a 
sentence. I understand by wrecking an action that harms 
a business and not a sentence taken at random from a con- 
versation of an unknown person in unknown circum- 

" How well you know what wrecking is! " she exclaimed. 
" But we shall come to ' actions ' later. So you see no ele- 
ments of wrecking in this sentence? " 


"Comrade Tchernavin," said the woman, suddenly 
changing her threatening attitude to a friendly one, " we 
value you very highly as a specialist, and we sincerely wish 
you well. I advise you not to be stubborn. You see " 
she pointed to a fat envelope on the table " this is the 
' case ' of your wife. If you tell the truth now and help us 


sincerely, we shall destroy it, but if you continue as you 
began to-day, we shall act on it and then you will have 
only yourself to blame." 

" What nonsense," thought I; " there can be no ' case ' 
in Murmansk against my wife. She has been here only once 
for ten days about a year ago, she knows nobody here and 
she couldn't be accused of anything, yet that envelope con- 
tains at least a hundred sheets." 

In answer to this threat, I shrugged my shoulders. 

" I am hiding nothing and I have nothing to hide. I am 
telling the truth." 

Now the man took up the inquisition. He began to 
enumerate methodically all the mistakes, real or fancied, 
made by the North State Fishing Trust during the ten 
years of operations. Most of them occurred before the 
foundation of the Trust: in 1920 a whaling schooner had 
been caught in ice fields; in 1921 someone had bought a 
harpoon schooner in Norway and, in the opinion of the 
GPU, had paid too much for it. In 1925 the catch of her- 
ring had been smaller, he said, than it was supposed to be; 
in 1927 one of the electric cranes had been out of order for 
some time. In January, 1929, the trawlers had fished for 
cod in the Gulf Stream region, when, according to the 
GPU, they ought to have gone to the region of the Bear 
Islands. And so on. 

He spoke slowly, going into many details, often consult- 
ing notes in front of him evidently accusations or testi- 
mony of various people. He seemed to expect to annihilate 
me with each of these accusations. 

" You see what a lot of evidence we have? Of course, we 
understand that some mistakes could naturally take place 
in production, but here they seem to be systematic. It is 
clearly a case of wrecking." 

The woman agent came back and they continued the 
inquiry together. 

" But consider," I could not help exclaiming, " the gen- 


eral results of the work of the fisheries! Don't they prove 
conclusively that there couldn't have been any wrecking 
activities? The work of the Trust is expanding all the time, 
the size of catches is increasing, the length of time the trawl- 
ers stand idle in the harbor is diminishing. The Trust 
yields a profit which is turned in to the State. And this 
enormous enterprise has grown where once there was noth- 
ing. How can there be any question of wrecking? For in- 
stance, you say that in 1929 fishing was intentionally car- 
ried on in the wrong place. To do that the captains and 
the crews of the trawlers must have been in league with 
the ' wreckers ' in the administration of the Trust; other- 
wise the crews would never have risked the loss of the 
premiums awarded them for good catches. Who would be- 
lieve it? " 

" Comrade Tchernavin, we are speaking only about 
strictly proven facts and in this case we have the testimony 
of a very competent comrade," said the GPU woman, re- 

" I know of no person more competent than our captains 
in knowing where to find the fish! " I answered, beginning 
to get irritated. 

" I can name them to you. They are the experts of the 
Oceanographic Institute working under Professor Mesiat- 
zeff. I have here their testimony proving that the ships 
were wilfully directed to the wrong fishing regions." 

" That's absurd! I remember perfectly that in January 
the results of the trawling were very good. We knew from 
British trade papers that there were fish near the Bear Is- 
lands, even without the help of the Institute, and our cap- 
tains had been notified. They did not go there because 
there was plenty of fish much nearer." 

I knew of Prolessor Mesiatzeff. His relations with the 
GPU were not a secret. His professional success was based 
on his party affiliations and not on scientific ability. 

" Perhaps you could find time to give us a written state- 


ment of your considerations regarding the work of the 
Oceanographic Institute? " politely suggested the exam- 
iner. " What do you think, for instance, of their estimate 
of the fish reserves in the Sea of Barents? " 

" I am not acquainted with the work of the Institute in 
this direction/' I parried, having no intention of falling 
into the trap and being caught as a " denouncer/' 

" And you, personally what do you think about the 
possibility of finding in the Barents Sea the quantity of 
fish required by the Plan? " 

This was the main point of the inquiry, I realized at 
once, and it had been left to the last. Evidently they meant 
to accuse me of not believing in the Piatiletka. The basis 
for this accusation might well be an opinion I had given 
to the Board of Directors that it would be wise to estimate 
the probable supply of fish in the Barents Sea before be- 
ginning to build three hundred or five hundred new trawl- 
ers for operations there. . . . Finally, after requiring a 
written answer to this last question, they solemnly admon- 
ished me: " We are astonished at your obstinacy, your ob- 
vious wish to shield somebody instead of helping us to 
expose the shortcomings of the Trust. We are not accusing 
you of anything, but you must prove to us by your acts 
your sincerity and loyalty to the Soviet Government. We 
must be convinced that you are not in sympathy with the 
wreckers. We expect you to give us important information 
and to give it of your own free will. We are giving you 
time to think. You can call us by telephone and we will 
hear you any day at any time. We don't want to interfere 
with your work/' 

They made me sign a promise not to talk about this inter- 
view, and then they let me go out into the frosty night. 
Only then did I realize how tired I was and how helpless. 



EXT morning, when I entered the office of the presi- 
dent of the Trust, Communist Mourasheff, he was savagely 
ringing the telephone bell and shouting: 

" Hello! I can't speak! Every time you tap the line to 
listen in you disconnect it! ... Do you hear, Comrade? 
. . . Why don't you answer? ... I know you are there! 
... If the GPU has no electrician capable of fixing your 
line so you can listen in, I'll send you one from the Trust! 
. . . No it's hopeless! " He threw down the receiver 
and turned to me. 

" Hell! Since the last arrests I can't use the telephone. 
When they tap my line I can't hear a thing. . . . Good 
morning. You have been to confession; tell me all about 
it; nobody will hear us." 

" I signed a pledge not to speak of it." 

" What nonsense! With me it will go no farther! What 
did they ask? Did they mention my name? " 

" They wanted to know details about the shipbuilding 
and about your journey abroad." I knew that was his weak 

" The cads! I'd like to see these scoundrels do any real 
constructive work. I'll have to go to Leningrad. No one 
here can think of anything but arrests and grillings. No- 
body is doing any work. Damnation! And you will have to 
go to Moscow. You're wanted by the United Fisheries to 
confer with them about the Plan." 


" The GPU will not let me go." 

" We can arrange with the GPU." 

In spite of this assurance I was still afraid that the GPU 
would prevent me from leaving Murmansk. Two more 
cross-examinations followed in which they threatened me 
because of my " insincerity," as they termed it, meaning 
my refusal to make false accusations against my friends 
and co-workers. Nevertheless, a few days later they did 
let me go, although I did not feel sure, even aboard the 
train, that I would not be arrested before it left the station 
for that was a common practice of the GPU. But at last 
I heard the whistle and the train began to move. Through 
the window I could see the miserable buildings of the 
town. Approaching the GPU barracks the train slowed 
down to allow one of their agents to jump off the mail car 
where he had been sorting out letters for the censor. That 
was my last impression of Murmansk. The train took on 
speed and I could settle down in peace. 

The first stage of the journey would carry me to Lenin- 
grad; this would take two days and during that time at 
any rate I would surely be free from arrest. Nor did I think 
I would be arrested upon my arrival. I could see my wile 
and boy again. The Soviet citizen is not exacting! For the 
moment I was almost happy. 

I still cherished the vague hope, shared by all my fellow 
workers, that in Moscow we would find protection from 
the stupid tyranny of the Murmansk GPU, that the Com- 
munists at the head of the United Fisheries the central 
department of the whole country's fishing industry hav- 
ing known the accused men and their work for so many 
years, could not suspect us of wrecking activities. Besides, 
I was sure they would understand how these arrests were 
upsetting the entire industry. 

Fortunately for me our train was fifteen hours late, so 
that I missed connection with the train for Moscow that 


evening and was able to spend a whole night and day at 
home. But the news I heard there was not cheerful. From 
my wife I learned of the senseless and cruel mass arrests of 
the intelligentsia both in Leningrad and Moscow. Young 
and old alike were being swept into prison; those who were 
well-known before the Revolution and those just out of 
Soviet universities. No distinction seemed to be made be- 
tween those who had refrained from politics and those who 
had been active in the Bolshevik campaigns, nor between 
the men engaged in pure science and those working as 
scientists in industries. Among the arrested were historians 
of world-wide reputations, many museum workers, engi- 
neers of every specialty, doctors and, as always, many 
former army officers and members of the clergy. These 
victims had one thing in common they were all intellec- 
tuals. Without the slightest doubt it was a campaign against 
the educated. Two years before, the world had heard of 
the " liquidations of the kulaks as a class "; now it was the 
turn of the intelligentsia. Our position was in a way even 
worse than that of the kulak. The prosperous peasant could 
leave his house and land, go to a town or another dis- 
trict, become a proletarian and lose himself in the mass. 
We could not. Our capital and property was our knowl- 
edge, our training, our education and it was just this 
that made us envied and hated by the Bolsheviks no matter 
where we were or what we did. Only death could deprive 
us of this property, and so we were made to suffer more 
cruelly than the kulaks. 

My home in Leningrad had not been searched. The 
GPU are never logical; in Murmansk they had investigated 
my supply of sugar and flour and had raked out the ashes 
of my stove; in Leningrad they paid no attention to my 
real home. I knew, however, that sooner or later they would 
come, so I carefully looked over everything I had old 
letters, photographs, manuscripts. I saw nothing that could 


possibly be incriminating, but I burned everything, even 
the photographs of my boy, to prevent their falling into 
the hands of the GPU. 

I went on to Moscow without difficulty. Three trains left 
every evening and arrived in Moscow the next morning, 
equipped with many upholstered cars and a few interna- 
tional sleeping cars. On the train one could get bed linen, 
and tea with rusks, articles which had long disappeared 
from the general market. Most of the passengers were gov- 
ernment officials but there was a scattering of foreigners. 
It was chiefly for their benefit that the station was kept in 
order sometimes, when some important foreigner was 
passing through, the station was temporarily decorated 
with palms and laurel trees to give an effect of prosperity. 

Two or three years before, on your arrival in Moscow 
you would have been met at the station by a double line of 
hotel agents vying for your patronage; and outside the 
station there had stood a long line of taxis. But in 1930 all 
these had disappeared. It was nearly impossible to find 
a hotel room and nobody dreamed of looking for a taxi. 
Everyone struggled for a foothold on the street cars, and 
the only way to spend a night was with friends, if only in 
a chair or on a chest. 

Moscow always affected me by its special, quite individ- 
ual, atmosphere; this the Bolsheviks could not destroy, 
however hard they tried. The Red Gates were standing at 
this time, though marked for removal. The Miasnitskaya 
was still the same, although nearer the center of the city 
the crowd was so big that the sidewalks could not hold it 
and pedestrians overflowed into the middle of the street. 
The street cars were filled to the utmost and many were 
always left waiting at every stop. There was little other 
traffic; occasionally an old, decrepit horse-drawn carriage 
or an official automobile speeding by with loud blasts from 


its horn. In spite of all the Bolshevik boasts about the mo- 
torization of Russia, there were very few busses even in 
Moscow. Taxis could never be found at their stands, for 
they were always being used by government organizations. 

The old and the new buildings of the GPU stood as 
monuments of Socialistic construction in the large space 
between the Lubianka and the Miasnitskaya. Never before 
had such a prominent site been chosen, or so much money 
spent, to house the secret police. The old Butyrki prison, 
accommodating 15,000 had proved quite insufficient for 
the purposes of the GPU and so they built the immense 
" Inside Prison " within the square formed by their other 
buildings. Here, close to headquarters, prisoners could be 
examined with the most up-to-date technique. No foreigner 
would ever guess that this place of terror flourished there, 
right in the heart of the old city. 

From the windows of the street cars the inhabitants of 
Moscow watched with interest the long lines in front of 
some shops. 

" What are they giving out today? " one would ask. 

"Vodka. See the people standing with bottles one 
must bring one's own." 

" It would be better if they sold some food," said another 

The Iverskaya chapel was demolished, but the inscrip- 
tion on the former town hall opposite it still remained: 
" Religion is opium for the people." A bright French cor- 
respondent at one time glibly rendered this: " Religion is 
the opinion of the people," and quoted it as proof of the 
Bolshevist broad-minded view in religious matters. 

The gates of the Kremlin were closed and guarded by 
strong detachments of soldiers, and when they were opened 
for the passage of a government automobile one got a 
glimpse of the empty and lifeless Kremlin Square. Behind 
the strong walls and bayonets hid the " People's Govern- 


ment " by whose will and behest many of the worthiest 
people of the country were put behind other strong walls 
where they too were guarded by sentinels and bayonets. 

The University and the Rumiantseff Museum were un- 
touched and in good repair, especially outside, to show the 
respect in which culture is held. The Church of the Saviour 
was still standing at the time of my visit, but was already 
doomed. Behind it, on the other bank of the Moskva River, 
an immense building was being erected the " House of 
the Government." While still under construction its pur- 
pose had been changed several times. The architect and 
several firemen had been shot because of a fire which 
started once in the scaffolding. In front of the " House of 
the Government " a new stone bridge was being built. 
The embankment was piled with marble slabs procured 
in Moscow cemeteries, on some of which one could still 
see parts of inscriptions such as " Here rests," " buried," 
" loving memory." It was said that these slabs were to be 
used to beautify the square. 

On the Prechistenka in the house of F. B. Chelnakoff 
was the famous Tolstoy Museum, and in Morosoff's house 
the museum of new French paintings to which had been 
added the Schukin Collection. Some of the pictures had 
been sold, and the people of Moscow were sure that these 
collections would soon share the fate of the many others 
which had been liquidated. Already gone were the museum 
of rare china, the museum of furniture in Nescoutchnoe, 
the museum of the " forties " on the Sabatchi Place and 
many others. The era of Soviet liberalism and regard for 
the Fine Arts had ended. 

When I went to Moscow I always stayed with V. K. Tols- 
toy, a great friend of mine who lived on Zuhoff Square. 
We had grown up together from childhood and had been 
brought still more closely together by our interest and 
work in the same field of science. 


Tolstoy came from a poor family not belonging to the 
nobility. His father was a physician and had no other in- 
come than that which he earned by his modest practice. 
He had had five children and it was all he could do to pro- 
vide for their education. They had lived very plainly and 
even the furnishings of their house consisted of nothing 
but beds and just the indispensable number of chairs and 

While still a student at the University, Tolstoy became 
interested in ichthyology and after graduation made it his 
specialty. He became well known for his serious and scien- 
tific research work. After the Revolution he gave himself 
with the same enthusiasm to practical work on a large scale 
and for eight years was director of the State fishing industry 
of both the Azof-Black Sea and Northern regions. During 
this time he published numerous articles on questions of 
fishing activity which showed that he had not entirely given 
up research; he also lectured from time to time on fishing 
at the Petrovsky Agricultural Academy. In 1929, when the 
direction of the fishing industry was transferred from the 
Fishing Union to the Political Bureau, a change which was 
decidedly leading the industry to its ruin, Tolstoy suc- 
ceeded, after great difficulty, in being transferred from the 
Fishing Union to the Scientific Institute of Fishing Econ- 
omy, where he engaged in purely theoretical work. 

Tolstoy was not capable of simulating or of adapting 
himself to the requirements of the moment. With great 
persistence, intelligence and knowledge he approached the 
problem of planning for the fishing industry, patiently and 
insisteVitly striving to introduce reason and sensible restric- 
tions into the wild experiments of the Bolsheviks. He was 
in despair every time Party directives tended to destroy 
that which had been built up with such effort, threatening 
by their unfulfillable requirements to ruin the whole 
work. He would then go to the chiefs and insist on prov- 


ing to them the folly of their orders and the injury they 
might cause the business, without ever stopping to con- 
sider the effect his persistence might have on his own 

When the Bolsheviks preplanned the i,5oo,ooo-ton 
catch for our North State Fishing Trust, Tolstoy under- 
took, by assignment from the Scientific Institute, an enor- 
mous and highly interesting research study on the basis of 
which he proved the inefficiency of using more than 125 
trawlers in the restricted region of the Sea of Barents. 
When Tolstoy read the report on the results of his research 
at the Scientific Institute and later before the Technical 
Council of the Fishing Union none of the Communists 
present raised any objections. How much courage was 
needed to present such a report can be seen from the fact 
that many of the Communists were afraid even to go to the 
meeting, and those who could not avoid going remained 
silent, although they clearly understood that the Govern- 
ment assignments were unfulfillable and perhaps they even 
hoped that Tolstoy's report would cause these to be modi- 
fied. Not one criticized the report, but neither did anyone 
uphold its author. 

Tolstoy lived alone and very poorly. Even during the 
period of the NEP he never had money enough to be prop- 
erly dressed even by Soviet standards, and would joke good- 
naturedly about the holes in his boots. 

Upon my arrival in Moscow, I was very glad to find him 
at home. I immediately asked him what steps were being 
taken in Moscow to obtain the release of Scherbakoff and 
Krotoff, my associates in Murmansk, and what were the 
general conditions. 

" My dear friend," said Tolstoy, " we have done every- 
thing we could, but we understand nothing. We have had 
a vague sort of promise that the GPU would set Scherba- 
koff and Krotoff free, but arrests are going on everywhere 


and no one feels safe. Here in Moscow Patrikeeff of the 
Fishing Union has been arrested, probably because he once 
served in the army. Frumkin has just returned from the 
Far East where he found everything in good order; but, 
in spite of this, arrests are taking place there; yet he, the 
chief, does not interfere with them. Something incompre- 
hensible is going on. And it's fearful to think what will 
happen at the end of the year, for in all the regions, the 
same as in yours, impossible assignments have been given. 
In the Far East, for instance, they've included in the pro- 
gram the construction of two hundred trawlers, where now 
they have only one boat, and that from Germany. They 
don't know even where to look for the fish or what kinds to 
catch. They don't know whether they should fish in the 
Japan Sea, the Bering Sea or the Sea of Okhotsk. They seem 
to be in a worse position than your Trust. Neither the 
Japanese nor the Americans have ever used trawlers in 
that region, and now we are going to build two hundred. 
There are no men, no wharves, no base but the order 
is to build at any cost." 

Tolstoy shook his head in despair and then continued: 
" The general assignment for this year for the whole indus- 
try is 1,900,000 tons of fish; we shall be lucky if sixty per 
cent of this is filled. That means more arrests! Next year 
the order is to catch 2,200,000 tons. Pure madness! I'm so 
glad I gave up work in the industry and have nothing more 
to do with planning. It's enough to drive anyone crazy! 
Scientific work is much more peaceful." 

As soon as he had finished talking I told him in detail 
about how things stood in Murmansk, how our Vice- 
President, Gasheff, had decided that we could increase 
production by 25% and so attempt to fulfill the plan by 
salting the cod with their heads on, and what arrests had 
been made. I also informed him about the perquisitions 
and cross-examinations. We seemed able to talk only of 


unpleasant and terrible things, in spite of the fact that we 
had rejoiced at meeting one another again. 

The following day I accompanied Tolstoy to the Fishing 
Union where Kryshoff, the senior director of the Fishing 
Industry, offered me the position of President of the Com- 
mission developing the plan for the Northern Fishing 
Region. Knowing, as I did, that the plan could not possibly 
be finished in the time allowed I refused this offer, but as 
I had no desire to return to Murmansk, I agreed to remain 
in Moscow as a consultant. 


HE summer of 1930 was full ofi disquiet. The effects 
of the unsuccessful Piatiletka experiment were felt every- 
where. Food was becoming scarce. One by one the neces- 
sities of life were disappearing from the market galoshes, 
soap, cigarettes and even paper. In Moscow, where I was 
staying, expensive, decorated cakes were on display in the 
show windows of State confectionery stores, but baker- 
ies had no bread. It was quite impossible to buy under- 
wear or shoes, but one could get a silk tie and a hat. Food 
stores carried only caviar, champagne and expensive 

Hungry citizens spoke openly and sarcastically about the 
results of the " Plan." Who was at fault? Some explanation 
of this state of affairs had to be given immediately. 

The official answer was nai\e: the shortage of foodstuffs 
and items of general necessity was caused by the growth in 
purchasing power of the masses and the rise in the cultural 
level of the workman and peasant! This was repeated over 
and over again in the official press. The slogan was " Diffi- 
culties of Growth." 

According to the Soviet reports the fulfillment of the 
Piatfletka was proceeding much faster even than antici- 
pated, production in all branches of industry was increas- 
ing with marvellous rapidity and it was this very success 
which furnished more " difficulties of growth." Such ex- 
planations might have seemed quite convincing to visiting 


foreigners or to foreign readers of Soviet newspapers 
but to no one else. 

Government reports announced that the 1930 produc- 
tion of cotton and sugar-beets was twice that of pre-war 
days yet there was no cotton cloth for sale and sugar was 
a great luxury. A notable increase in the production of all 
earthly blessings was being promised for 1930-31. 

The same newspapers, however, with their boastful arti- 
cles, published the gloomiest reports of " breaches " on 
all fronts: the coal front, the metallurgical, the lumber, 
rubber, chemical, footwear, and others. These failures 
were attributed to the " wrecking activity " of individual 
experts, to campaigns carried on by foreign elements and 
to the bureaucracy of old-regime state functionaries. 

Lines which stretched along whole blocks formed wher- 
ever anything was being sold. They were becoming a sore 
spot. In the attempt to find scapegoats the GPU spread 
the rumor, immediately taken up by the press, that there 
was fraud on a large scale in the distribution of food cards. 
The acute shortage of meat was explained by failure to 
follow the " directives of the XVI Party Congress," and by 
the " wrecking activity " of veterinaries who, it was said, 
gave poisoned injections to pigs. Daily articles appeared 
with ostentatious captions: " Vegetables perish by fault of 
producers " " Who interferes with the supply of vegeta- 
bles?" "Call to answer for the unsanitary storage and 
handling of vegetables and foodstuffs" There was a short- 
age of vegetables in August when all truck gardens should 
have been full. The papers, however, failed to mention 
that in the spring of that year all the larger vegetable gar- 
dens had been taken away from private owners, and the co- 
operative work groups and other new fiat organizations 
could not cope with the job. 

The situation in the fishing industry was disastrous. 
Men, fishing tools, ships and materials were lacking. But 


in spite of such conditions the authorities continued to in- 
crease the plans for the industry, thereby rendering utterly 
impossible any satisfactory fulfillment of the assignment. 

The methods offered for correction of the hopeless situa- 
tion were of truly Bolshevik character. On August 7, 1930 
there was published the resolution of the Council of Peo- 
ple's Commissars regarding the steps to be taken to increase 
the fish supply. 

" Point one: All work to be carried out in ' shock tempo ' 
and in the autumn to cover the deficiency of the spring 

Then followed seventeen points of the same nature, of 
which the seventeenth was the most extraordinary. 
" Within two months work out instructions for deep sea 
fishing and the improvement of processing fish; take meas- 
ures for the amelioration and the breeding of fish. Signed 

The editorials of all papers recommended applying the 
following most important measures under all circum- 
stances: " Fight for the extreme development of counter- 
plans," " stimulate social competition and shock work," 
" form shock brigades, planning groups, rationalization 
brigades," " organize light cavalry attacks " and so on, with- 
out end. 

Under all these measures, offered by the government 
and by alert reporters, actually lay the same idea of " shock 
work " overtime work of hungry and exhausted people. 

" Counter-plan " meant an irresponsible increase of al- 
ready impossible assignments. " Brigades," " cavalry " and 
so forth were similar evidence of interference in the busi- 
ness by completely ignorant but extremely self-assured 
" Komsomoltsi ," who did no work themselves, but engaged 
in " self-criticism," which was directed to those who really 
worked under insuperable difficulties. 

Then came the arrests of specialists of all ranks and 


classes, in all branches of industry, in the provinces and at 
the " Centre " arrests carried out at such a pace that the 
GPU appeared to be accomplishing its own Piatiletka at 
" shock " speed and to the full capacity of the prisons. The 
papers seldom wrote about the arrests, but everyone knew 
that under the headings " Who interferes with the supply 
of vegetables? " " Why is prosecution inactive?" were con- 
cealed arrests of scores and hundreds of people. Electrical 
engineers, chemists, experts of any prominence in rubber, 
agronomy and geology, all were being arrested. In August 
almost all the staff of the Caspian (State Planning Com- 
mission) were arrested, and at the head of the list was the 
first vice-president, Professor Ossadchim, who at the " mine 
trial " had been the public prosecutor. 

In this way, by the fall of 1930, the end of the second 
year oi the Piatilcfka, the country had been reduced to 
such a shortage in consumers' goods, man power and the 
necessities of life, that not only the development of con- 
struction activity was unthinkable, but it was becoming im- 
possible to live or work normally. Everyone felt that the 
impossible pace adopted would bring ruin. The Govern- 
ment, however, instead of realizing this and calling a halt 
to try to find some reasonable way out of the situation, 
strove with hysterical outbursts and relentless obstinacy 
to increase the pace still more, hiding behind knowingly 
false figures of fictitious " attainments " and " victories." 
Its wrath, fanned by the consciousness of its own helpless- 
ness and defeat, was directed against the peasantry and 
those experts who were working most actively. The short- 
ages and all other failures were laid at their door by the 
authorities in an effort to incite the workmen against them. 
But the workmen remained indifferent to this campaign. 
The country, to the victorious cries of " fulfillment " and 
" overfulfilment," was plunging into complete poverty 
and disastrous famine. 


Everywhere the approach of something ominous was 
being felt. Communists and experts close to Communists 
who held positions of importance in the fishing industry 
were hurriedly leaving Moscow. They sensed something, 
or rather knew something, about the impending destruc- 
tion of their comrades, and somebody's benevolent hand 
led them away from the place which was destined to be 

Kryshoff, a Communist and senior director of the fishing 
industry since the beginning of the Revolution, found time 
before his departure to publish an interview in the " Izves- 
tia " of August 2, 1930, obviously meant for the enlighten- 
ment of the GPU. In this interview, without mentioning 
him by name, he clearly pointed to Michael Alexandro- 
vitch KazakofF, accusing him of favoring the idea of pri- 
vately owned fisheries and, by the measures he put through 
for fish preservation, of intentionally interfering with the 
development of the State fishing industry. It had been Kaza- 
kofF, one of the leaders in the fishing industry, whose offer 
that I take charge of the planning division had resulted 
in my being engaged in the work at Murmansk. Kryshoff 
knew well that under Soviet conditions it was impossible 
for Kazakoff to refute such a libel as his. It is quite possible 
that this denunciation of Kazakoft was in its way a bribe 
which Kryshoff gave the GPU, in order to be allowed to 
leave the business which he himself had headed for so many 
years and for which he should have been the first to be held 

Kazakoff was an outstanding man. Long before the Rev- 
olution he had worked for the preservation of the natural 
fish resources of the country. He was the chief factor in 
all the fishing conventions drawn up with other countries. 
To his brains and energy alone was due the arrangement 
that the Bolsheviks succeeded in making with Japan in 
regard to fishing rights and this in spite of the impossible 


behavior of the Bolshevik diplomats. He was an expert on 
fishing law and had lectured on the subject in the Petrov- 
sky Agricultural Institute in Moscow. It was my good for- 
tune to be his closest assistant and to work with him in 
those conferences on the fishing industry to which he was 

The Communist rulers needed someone on whom to 
blame the growing shortage of food and so they accused 
Kazakoff of being the leader of " wreckers " in the fishing 
industry. They could, of course, give no proofs of these 
alleged wrecking activities and, therefore, had to resort 
to the favorite GPU method of " voluntary confession of 
the accused/* No one with the slightest knowledge of the 
facts believed this confession, but the desired result was 
obtained an honest and incorruptible man, devoted to 
his work and his country, was removed from the path of 
those in whose way he stood. 

On September nth I met him. He asked me: "Aren't 
you afraid for yourself? Almost all the prominent experts 
of the fishing industry are being arrested and, you know, 
you are very much disliked by the Communists/' Just a 
few hours before his own arrest, it did not enter his mind 
that he also might be in danger. 

In the same issue of " Izvestia'' x August 2, 1930, the Red 
professor, Communist T. Mesiatseff, tried to prove on the 
ground of scientific investigation that the Piatiletka drawn 
up for the northern fishing industry was entirely possible 
and that up to that time the trawlers had been bringing 
in only 5% of the potential catch. Moreover, he tele- 
graphed the Fishing Union that fifteen million tons of fish 
were available in the fishing region of the Barents Sea 
alone. These " discoveries " gave the GPU ample material 
to consider as " wreckers " all those who spoke of the im- 

i Izvestia is the Russian word for " news." This newspaper is the 
official organ of the Soviet Government. TRANSLATOR. 


possibility of fulfilling the Piatiletka in the north. This 
blow was directed chiefly against my friend, V. K. Tolstoy. 

Then began a series of arrests of members of the Fishing 
Union and the Scientific Institute of Fishing Economy. 
The first one in the latter organization was that of seventy- 
year old T. G. Farmanoff, a scientist and expert of the Insti- 
tute and professor of the Agricultural Academy. 

His arrest happened as this kind of thing always happens 
in the U.S.S.R. One day the expert does not turn up at 
his office, and the more apprehensive of his co-workers im- 
mediately begin to worry. The optimists are reassuring: 
" What of it? Perhaps he's only sick." His home is called 
on the telephone, and the answer comes in ambiguous 
terms: " He can't come." Then it is clear he has been 
arrested. After that everyone refers to him with a certain 
wariness and avoids his unoccupied desk, which alone 
serves as a reminder that the man is still living and as yet 
not even dropped from the list of employees. His wife or 
mother waits in vain at the closed door of some influential 
Communist in the naive hope of finding in him a protector 
for the husband or son arrested by the GPU. " He knew 
my husband so well; he visited us. It's impossible that he 
will do nothing. . . ." 2 

Then followed, one after the other, the arrests of many 
more. Rumors were circulating of the complete havoc 
caused in all regional fishing trusts. 

In the Scientific Institute one of the first to be arrested 
was the scientist P. M. Fishson, a prominent expert in fish- 

2 After the arrest of T. G. Farmanoft, in the summer of 1930, I heard 
nothing of him until the summer ot 1931, when at the Solovetzki con- 
centration camp I found out that he was there on Popoff Island serving a 
sentence of ten years in connection with the case of the " 48." His name had 
never been mentioned either in the newspapers or in the text of the ar- 
raignment and sentence. During his first days in prison he had been 
stricken by paralysis and lost the use of his legs; he was not present at 
his own " trial," and was sentenced to ten years' hard labor without any 
charge having been made against him. 


ing economy. Calm, controlled and loyal to his work, he 
had kept entirely away from politics, avoiding even the 
most ordinary conversations on political subjects. A few 
days later his brother, G. M. Fishson, one of the foremost 
workers in the Fishing Union, was also arrested. In con- 
trast to his brother, G. M. Fishson was full of life and en- 
ergy; he worked with flaming enthusiasm and never spared 
himself, in spite of being ill with tuberculosis. I met him 
on the eve of his arrest. He was depressed by his brother's 
arrest, was thinking only of him and had given no thought 
to the danger with which he himself might be threatened. 

And still the arrests continued. As soon as night fell the 
" black crows " (large closed GPU automobiles) would 
rush roaring through the streets in all parts of Moscow. 
But later, in order to be less conspicuous to the terrorized 
population, the GPU devised a new system of procedure 
whereby at nightfall the " black crows " would be sent to 
the various district police stations and there hidden in 
back yards. The GPU agents would then go out in groups, 
pick up their victims and bring them one by one to the 
station. When a party of about thirty prisoners was thus 
collected, they would be packed into the automobile and 
the " black crow " would rush them to the Lubianka or 
Butyrki prison, unload the spoil and hurry back for its 
next load of victims. 

Strangely enough, those who had not been arrested were 
allowed unbelievable freedom of movement in the U.S.S.R. 
Thus, in August 1930, my good friend Tolstoy left on a 
business trip for Baku, whence, if he had so wished, he 
might easily have escaped to Persia. During his absence the 
GPU visited his apartment, not knowing that he was away. 
Evidently they had not been watching the movements of 
this " state criminal connected with the international bour- 
geoisie," were not worried about his possible escape, and 
were in no hurry to detain him after his return to Moscow, 


where he continued to work in the Scientific Institute up 
to the very day of his arrest, September 12th. And even 
during his last days of freedom, Frumkin, the chiet of the 
Fishing Union, was constantly calling on him for advice. 
At that very time the GPU had already prepared " testi- 
monies " dated September 9th which '" exposed " Tolstoy 
as the initiator and leader of " wrecking activities " in the 
Northern and Azof-Black Sea regions. 

S. D. Shaposhnikoff, engineer and expert oi the Scien- 
tific Institute, the foremost autlioiity in the U.S.S.R. on 
refrigeration for the fishing industry, was about to leave for 
America to study the rehigeratioii business there. The 
GPU gave him a permit to leave and then arrested him at 
the railway station. 

Arrested during these same days was Professor M. T. 
Nazarevski, 3 arid a little later A. A. Klykoff, a well-known 
expert in the field ol marketing. 

So many arrests were being made in the fishing industry 
that by the middle ot September there was nobody left 
to do any work. In the Fishing Union the experts were re- 
placed by workmen; in the Scientific Institute the desks 
were left unoccupied and there were some offices left with- 
out a single occupant. Those who remained wandered 
around aimlessly, expecting to be arrested at any minute. 

3 Professor Nazarevski was deported for a term of ten years to the 
Solovetzki concentration tamp. 



HAVE no power to describe what I felt after the arrests 
of my fellow-workers. I knew that I was standing over an 
abyss and that there was nothing I could do. The fact that 
I was still free was pure chance and could only be explained 
by inefficiency on the part of the GPU, which did not have 
my name on its lists merely because I had just recently 
arrived in Moscow from the provinces. 

Not knowing which way to turn in the midst of this con- 
fusion, I demanded a leave of absence. Evidently the Com- 
munist chiefs must have been affected by the general con- 
fusion arid have let their natural suspicions lapse, for I was 
granted this leave and went at once to Leningrad to rejoin 
my family. 

I had no hope for a favorable outcome of the cases of my 
associates and co-workers in the fishing industry, for I knew 
that the GPU, in depriving the country of indispensable 
specialists, was acting according to instructions received 
from the Political Bureau. Nevertheless, it was a shock 
to me when I saw in the morning paper on the 2 2nd 
of September the following headlines printed in huge 


48 TO BE SHOT 77 

And below in smaller, but sufficiently prominent type: 

" The GPU has disclosed a counter-revolutionary, 
wrecking and spying organization within the system sup- 
plying the population with the most essential food prod- 
ucts (meat, fish, canned foods, vegetables), which had for 
its aim the producing of famine in the country and the 
causing of dissatisfaction among the workers thereby at- 
tempting to precipitate the downfall of the dictatorship 
of the proletariat. The following institutions were con- 
taminated by this wrecking activity: (he Meat Union, Fish- 
ing Union, Canning Union, Vegetable Union and the cor- 
responding branches of the Commissariat of Trade. 

" The counter-revolutionary organization was headed 
by Professor Riazantseff, former land-owner and Major- 
General, and Professor Karatigin, before the Revolution 
chief editor of the ' Trade and Industrial Paper ' and the 
'Financial News.' The members of the counter-revolution- 
ary organizations in their majority belong to the nobility, 
are former Tsarist officers and supply corps men, former 
fishing industrialists, manufacturers and Socialists-Men- 

" This counter-revolutionary wrecking organization was 
in close contact with the While emigration and representa- 
tives of foreign capital, receiving from them financial aid 
and directions. This organization is now completely ex- 

" The case has been handed over to the GPU." 

Below this announcement followed the " confessions " 
and " testimony " of the accused men, in which the most 
prominent professors, scientists and specialists of the coun- 
try told in an incoherent and contradictory manner of the 
" wrecking " activity, of their attempt to produce famine 


in the country, of receiving for their " wrecking work " 
money from abroad in mysterious and incomprehensible 
ways. These statements were simply incredible. From the 
point of view of evidence they were absurd. 

In that part of the " incriminating " material, presented 
by the GPU, which dealt with the leaders of the " organi- 
zation " there was not a single document proving the stated 
" facts "; everything was based on " voluntary confessions," 
but these not only did not confirm the " facts," but on the 
contrary contradicted them as well as each other. At the 
same time one could not find in any of the "confessions" 
an indication of the slightest desire on the part of the 
" guilty " to reduce the extent of their " crime " or to shift 
it to others; on the contrary, every one of them sought to 
emphasize that he had played an important, leading and 
active iole in this " wrecking" organization. Each one, ap- 
parently, endeavored to do everything possible to further 
his own conviction and execution and made no attempt to 
shield others they all named many persons and gave 
many " facts." 

It is difficult to say by what means such " confessions " 
and " testimony " were obtained. Although the true pic- 
ture of this terrible case will probably never be revealed, 
one thing is clear that all the information published by 
the GPU bore the unmistakable sign of careless and cyni- 
cal falsification. The " testimony " of the rank and file 
members of the " organization " is of such chaotic nature, 
that not only is it hard to analyze, but in many instances it 
is incomprehensible. Evidently, its main purpose was to 
show concretely what "wrecking" was and to explain the 
reason why the country suffered famine when the Piatiletka 
was supposed to be progressing so successfully. 

Deprived even of a chance of defending themselves in a 
Soviet court these scientists had been blamed and arrested 
because of the very apparent failure of the Five Year Plan 

48 TO BE SHOT 79 

in the food industries. After the publishing of the inco- 
herent and contradictory materials everybody expected a 
summing up by the prosecution and a report from the 
GPU which might throw more light on the whole case. 
But events moved too swiftly. The very same day that the 
" materials " appeared in the papers, workmen and em- 
ployees of all enterprises and institutions of the U.S.S.R. 
were ordered to attend meetings at which they were forced 
to vote for resolutions calling for the execution of " all the 

At such meetings not only the voicing of a protest against 
possible injustice in the accusation or the expressing of a 
doubt as to the fairness of GPU procedure, but the merest 
question which might seem suspicious or the failure to 
vote for the resolution submitted invariably led to loss of 
work and often to imprisonment and deportation. 1 There- 
fore, the resolutions concerning the " wrecking organiza- 
tion " were unanimously approved, although it must be 
said, to the honor of Leningrad workmen, that all the meet- 
ings did not proceed smoothly. I later met one of these 
workmen who was serving a prison term because his be- 
havior at such a meeting had been judged unreliable by 
the authorities. 

On September 2$rd and 24th the newspapers were filled 
with the resolutions so heartily approved at the meetings, 
as well as with disgusting articles, rhymes and cartoons all 
demanding the death penalty. Obviously the GPU was pre- 
paring for an execution. 

On September 25th appeared the announcement from 
the GPU: 

" The Council of the GPU having by order of the 
U.S.S.R. Government investigated the case of the counter- 

i The woid " deportation," as used by the author, does not mean the 
act of sending a person out of the country, but rather commitment to a 
concentration camp, or exile to some remote district of the U.S.S.R. 


revolutionary wrecking organization in the field of public 
supply of food products, the materials on which case have 
been published in the 'Pravda' on September 22, 1930, 
condemns (then followed a list of the names of forty-eight 
professors, scientists and experts) .... TO BE SHO T. 
" The sentence has been carried out. 

(( President of the OGPU Menzhinsky." 

Such a monstrous slaughter was beyond belief forty- 
eight of Russia's foremost scientists had been shot without 
trial. The most pessimistically inclined could not have 
imagined anything so horrible. 

All those who had been executed were without excep- 
tion " non-party " experts of the food industries, holding 
positions of responsibility in the central institutions in 
Moscow and those who had been directing the activity of 
Trusts and other big enterprises in the provinces. It was a 
list of administrative posts rather than of private indi- 
viduals. Those in high positions who were spared were 
Communists. If a certain important position was being 
held by a Communist, the " non-party " expert who had 
held it previously was executed. If the post had been occu- 
pied by a Communist for a long time, he had been re- 
placed just before this case came up by a " non-party " man 
who became one of the " 48." 

A large number of those executed I knew personally, 
others I knew by reputation. Among my friends and co- 
workers prominently associated with the fishing industry 
and shot as members of the " 48 " were the following: 

V. K. Tolstoy The former director of the Northern 
and the Azof-Black Seas regions, whose story I have al- 
ready given. 2 

M. A. Kazakoff An outstanding leader in the fishing 

2 The Communist who held this position at the time of the arrests was 

48 TO BE SHOT 81 

industry whose record and achievements I have already 
stated. He was accused of being the " leader of the wreckers 
in the fishing industry." 

P. M. Fishson Inspector of the State Fishing Industry. 8 

G. M. Fishson One of the foremost workers in the 
Fishing Union. 

N. A . Ergomysheff A prominent expert and director 
of the Far-Eastern Region. 

M. P. Artsiboosheff An expert who was made director 
of the Volga-Caspian Region just before his arrest. 

P. /. KarpofJ The foremost Russian expert in the 
manufacture of fishing equipment, who for many years had 
directed the manufacture of fishing nets for the whole of 
the U.S.S.R. and was the technical director of the Setesnast 
(Fishing Equipment Trust) . Although his name was not 
mentioned in the " materials ' published on September 
22nd, he was executed as one of the " 48 " seemingly be- 
cause of his past. 

S. D. Shaposhnikoff The most prominent refrigeration 
specialist in the Russian fishing industry. His name was 
not inserted in the " arraignment," and in the official list 
of those executed, instead of a statement of his crime, the 
following short announcement was made: " Engineer, 
former owner of a refrigeration enterprise." In sentencing 
such prominent experts to death the GPU did not even 
deem it necessary to mention a reason for their execution. 

S. V. Scherbakoff The creator of the northern trawl- 
ing enterprise and leader of the men working in the North 
State Fishing Trust. He had been arrested in March at the 
time when my quarters in Murmansk were searched. 4 I 

3 The senior director in the production department of the Fishing 
Union, the Communist G. A. Kryshoff, whose work Fishson had often done, 
was spared. 

* Krotoff, who had been arrested with Scherbakoff in Murmansk in the 
spring of 1930, could never have been guilty of any crime. A more honest 
and conscientious man was not to be found and he never concerned him- 


cannot think of him without emotion. No one who worked 
with Scherbakoff can ever forget him. Here is his story: 

Of peasant origin from the Astrakhan district, Simeon 
Vassilievitch Scherbakoff learned to read and write in a 
village school and at the age of ten got a job as " boy " in 
one of the fisheries owned by the big firm of Bezzubikoff. 
There he rose to the position of manager of the northern 
section of the firm. Calmly and confidently he conducted 
this large fishing business, no part of which belonged to 
him and from which he received only a very modest salary. 
He accepted the Revolution as calmly as he met everything 
else in life. He had begun life too early and had seen too 
much of it to be moved by anything that could happen. 
After the Revolution he accepted new work without loss 
of time, because work in the fisheries was his only interest. 

Industrious and endowed with exceptional ability, he 
was a man of the highest character in every way. He had 
no personal ambitions or interests; at home and in his office 
he lived exclusively for his work. Although he had received 
no education, he was able to solve in his head the most 
complicated problems; he understood perfectly the in- 
tricacies of bookkeeping; he kept up-to-date in his reading 
of specialized literature, sensed by extraordinary intuition 
what of it was valuable and then boldly introduced it into 
his own enterprise. While directing the whole business and 

self with questions of general policy. However, as he was the second in 
command in the North State Fishing Trust, he had to be removed to 
strengthen the accusation of " wrecking activity." Alter the execution of 
the " 48," he was held for another half year in prison and subjected to the 
most cruel tortures in an attempt to force him to denounce those ol his 
fellow -workers who were still alive. He became very sick with scurvy, suf- 
fered from hallucinations and was almost insane. 1 was told that under 
the strain of terrible suffering, completely exhausted and yearning for 
death he finally wrote the fatal words. " I admit myself guilty." The cross- 
examiners could not force him to denounce others. He was shot in April 

48 TO BE SHOT 83 

rebuilding it, he never lost touch with the production end 
and knew the current life of the entire enterprise down to 
the last detail. 

He was the only one who was able to go on working with 
two Communists continually on his neck the president 
of the Trust and his assistant with incessant interference 
into his business matters by the GPU, and with every dis- 
gruntled workman using libel and false accusation against 
him as weapons of revenge. All this he was able to regard 
coolly as unavoidable difficulties of the trade, like the bad 
weather and storms which forced the trawlers to remain in 
the harbor. It must be said that the Bolsheviks forgave 
those of us for our education received in a formal way 
much more easily than they did him. It was unpleasant for 
many of them to come into contact with his sound mind 
and clean conscience; therefore, he was one of the first to 
perish at their hands, although he could in no way be 
ranked as a " class enemy." 

In every section of the industry one non-party expert, 
the most prominent, had been shot and, in the published 
list of the executed, after each name, stood the notation: 
" Leader of wrecking activity in such and such a Trust. 
. . ." This left the way open for a further " uncovering " 
of their " followers." But there were twelve experts who, 
in the testimony, had figured as participants in the wreck- 
ing organization, whose names did not appear in the fatal 
list of the " 48." Concerning these the GPU made no com- 
ment; they did not feel obliged to explain in any way why 
these men, previously accused of being " wreckers," had 
been replaced by others at the time of execution. 

By the execution of the " 48 " the Soviet Government 
demonstrated to the whole world that there is no justice 
in the U.S.S.R., that whenever it finds it suited to its wishes 
it can send anyone to death and that the citizens of the 


U.S.S.R. not only will not dare to raise their voices in pro- 
test, but at a word of command will give their votes of ap- 
proval of such slaughter and of their gratitude to the GPU. 

The day after the executions I met one of the technical 
experts of the fishing business. He was very depressed. As 
nobody could overhear us we spoke openly of what lay on 
our minds. 

" Whose turn is it now? I feel it will be mine. Well, let 
them go ahead I'm only sorry for the children," he said, 
as he looked at his watch. " I must be going now/' 

" Where to? " I asked. 

"General meeting to express contempt for the exe- 
cuted, to voice disapproval of wrecking activities and to 
vote that the GPU be awarded the ' Order of Lenin ' for 
its good work! You'd better come, too/' 

I expressed my thoughts with a glance and shrugged my 

" I advise you to go," he said seriously. " Why be quix- 
otic? Believe me, your absence will be noticed." 

We parted. I never saw him again. 



ESPAIR and panic ensued. No one thought of work; 
everyone feared for his own life, expecting at any moment 
to be seized and to see his friends and relatives arrested. 
The Communist chiefs recommended calmness, assuring 
us all that those left free were safe, but their efforts were 
in vain. Nobody believed them. It was too well known that 
the termination of a trial, the announcement of a sentence 
and even the fearful words " carried out " do not mean, 
in the U.S.S.R., the end of arrests, but are only preludes 
to more repressions and executions. 

The sentence itself contained clear indications that it 
was only the beginning. In the announcement of the exe- 
cution of many of the " 48 " the GPU had stated: " leader 
of a group of wreckers in such and such a trust," " initiator 
of wrecking activity in such and such a region." It was clear 
that now they would go after the participants of these 
" groups " and " organizations " which they had " discov- 
ered." Realizing, as we did, that no such groups or organi- 
zations had ever existed, we did not feel secure from arrest 
simply in the knowledge of our own innocence. 

Subsequent events quickly proved that the case was being 
carried on further, that the Political Bureau and the GPU 
were not satisfied with the number of victims they had 
already sent to their deaths. A second " weeding out " proc- 
ess in all those institutions mentioned in connection with 
the case of the " 48 " was announced, in spite of the fact 


that, in the summer of 1930, before the arrest of the " 48," 
a drastic " weeding out," with the active participation of 
the GPU, had already been effected. At that time they had 
found the very ones who were later shot in connection 
with the case of the " 48 " to be loyal workers. The new 
" weeding out " was to serve the special purpose of expos- 
ing the " concealed accomplices of the wreckers/' At meet- 
ings held for this purpose the GPU not only gained new 
victims but also collected more evidence against those al- 
ready detained in prisons. It was a great temptation to 
those still at liberty, for by actively coming forward at these 
meetings to denounce their fellow-workers they could thus 
gain a reputation for reliability in the eyes of the GPU. 
There were some who basely succumbed to this temptation, 
while others, fearing for their skins, went even further. 
Thus Professor F. I. Baranoff came out with a base and 
libelous article in the magazine " Bulletin of Fishing Econ- 
omy," under the title of " Lessons of Wrecking " wherein 
he attempted to prove that "as he now understands" it 
the work of those executed had been of a " wrecking na- 
ture " and that those who had opposed his scientific work 
had done so with only one purpose " wrecking." * 

It was not long before new arrests were made in all the 
institutions and enterprises of the food industry in Moscow 
as well as in the provinces. In the Institute of Fishing Econ- 
omy Professor N. N. Alexandroff, A. F. Nevraeff and a 
number of other employees were arrested; in the Direc- 
torate of Fisheries, the well-known experts, S. A. Tikhenko 
and S. I. Parakhin; while in the Fishing Union there re- 
mained not one of the old employees. And similar arrests, 

i As I was later to discover, Professor Baranoff had originally been 
one of the chief suspects in the case of " wrecking " in the Institute of 
Fishing Economy, but by his subsequent activity and his false condemnation 
of his fellow-workers he succeeded in saving his life and winning a " par- 
don " from the GPU. When last I heard of him he was still carrying on 
his professorial work in safety. 


all of more or less prominent specialists and employees, 
were taking place in the provinces. 

By the autumn of 1930 the disruption of the fishing in- 
dustry in all its branches scientific, administrative, pro- 
duction and distribution was complete. Of the old staff 
of experts there were left only units and these made up 
mostly of men who had carefully avoided taking part in 
practical work, of a few good practical workers spared by 
chance because they held secondary positions and, finally, 
of individuals connected with the GPU. 

Such Communists as had succeeded since the Revolution 
in acquiring some education and some knowledge of the 
fishing business, due to their work in contact with special- 
ists, were also being removed and transferred to other 
positions. Such were the cases of Frumkin, Kryshoff , Babkin 
and many others. The entire industry was handed over into 
" proletarian " hands, that is, into the hands of men who 
knew nothing about the business. The results were what 
might have been expected and were felt almost imme- 

I cannot here give a complete statement of the havoc 
wrought in the fishing industry some future historian 
will, no doubt, be able to do it much better than I could. 
I can only say that during the short period of 1930-31, out 
of the scientists and highly qualified specialists in the fish- 
ing industry whom I knew personally or of whose fate I 
have been definitely informed, twenty-six were shot and 
thirty-four deported to concentration camps. Many more 
whom I did not know were either killed or deported at 
this same time. In the Far East alone five were shot and 
sixty sentenced to hard labor. 

Without any doubt the systematic destruction of the 
remaining specialists and men of culture is even now being 
continued in the U.S.S.R. No disaster, no epidemic, no 
war could destroy with such selection the cream of experi- 


enced and active workers in the industries which the GPU 
attacked. This wholesale destruction of specialists could 
not fail to have fatal results for the fishing business. In 
spite of the large sums of money spent by the Bolsheviks 
and the enormous efforts exerted to develop the industry, 
it was broken down at the root by this mass destruction of 
specialists in 1930-31, and all endeavors later to revive it 
were defeated because of the absence of men with a knowl- 
edge of the business. 

The same conditions prevailed, in general, in all the 
industries of the U.S.S.R. I specifically mention the fishing 
industry of the north only because I know it so well, but 
it presents no exception and was only in line with the 
other industries in all parts of the country. 

The Bolsheviks for the second time were leading a rich 
and prosperous country into terrible poverty and dreadful 
famine. " Wrecking " did, indeed, exist, but it was wreck- 
ing of unbelievable proportions, preplanned by the organi- 
zation headed by Stalin, the Political Bureau and the GPU, 
together with their thousands of branches, called nuclei, 
of the Communist Party. 

A time will come when these real wreckers will have 
judgment passed upon them by a true court of justice. 



.FTER the execution of the " 48 " I knew that sooner 
or later I too would be arrested. In the order for their exe- 
cution V. K. Tolstoy, my best friend, was designated as the 
" leader of wrecking activities in the North Region," while 
S. V. Scherbakoff, the man closest to me among the workers 
of the Trust, was described as " the head of the counter- 
revolutionary organization in the North State Fishing 
Trust." And now that these accused " leaders " had been 
done away with, the " organization " itself must somewhere 
be found. Since it did not exist, the most likely people in 
the opinion of the GPU would be accused. Besides Scher- 
bakoff, the only arrest yet made in the North State Fishing 
Trust had been that of K. I. Krotoff who had been in prison 
now for more than half a year but this was evidently not 
enough for an " organization." There remained four spe- 
cialists holding executive positions: Scriabin, the engineers 
K. and P., and myself. Scriabin might possibly be spared 
since his father, a peasant, had once been exiled by the 
Tsarist Government. The engineers K. and P. did not 
quite fit the role of members of the " organization " as they 
were already serving a sentence of hard labor, having been 
sold to the Trust by the GPU. And since the GPU was re- 
ceiving income for their work, it would have been foolish 
to lose it by accusing them for a second time. 

It was therefore clear that I would be the next victim. 
I would either be sent to Solovki or executed there 


could be no other alternative. Life was finished for me. 
What would happen to my wife and my boy eleven 
years old for whom there had been tragedy enough 

Bewildered and not knowing what I should do, I de- 
cided definitely not to go back to Murmansk. What had I 
to lose? I might look for work in the provinces, take my 
family with me and try to escape across the border. In 
applying for such work I must, if possible, make it appear 
that I did not want to be assigned to a frontier region; 
otherwise the GPU would never permit me to work in such 
a place. I discussed this with my wife. It seemed the only 
way out. But the accomplishing of such a scheme took time 
and dismal days of waiting followed. 

I shunned mankind. Any contact with a man in my posi- 
tion might prove dangerous. If by chance I met acquaint- 
ances, they passed me by in a panic. The few who did stop 
to assure me of their sympathy stressed the fact that in spite 
of everything they were not avoiding me. 

Each evening, when the boy was in bed, my wife and I 
would sit together for a long time waiting. We never 
spoke of it, but we both knew for what we were waiting and 
that these might be our last hours together. Nearly a month 
had elapsed since the executions. Many people had been 
imprisoned. Why was I being spared? Sometimes I even 
felt ashamed that I had not yet been arrested. How had I 
earned the mercy of the executioners, I who had not taken 
part in a single meeting at which the so-called " wreckers " 
had been denounced? 

It happened at last, and very simply. 

I was at home alone. My son had gone to the " movies " 
he, too, was restless and nervous. My wife had not yet 
come home from work. 

The bell rang. I opened the door and saw the house 



We determined 

to escape together 3 


superintendent with a stranger in civilian dress. I under- 

The stranger handed me a paper the order for search 
and arrest. 

I let him in. 

He entered the room which served as both bedroom and 
study and began the search. It was a very superficial one, 
only a formality. From the mass of papers and manuscripts 
in my desk he took only one notebook lying on top. 

When my wife came home the search was finished and 
I was preparing for my " journey ": two changes of under- 
wear, a pillow, a blanket, a few pieces of sugar and several 
apples there was no other food in the house. I changed 
my clothes. 

" I am ready," I said to the GPU agent, thinking to my- 
self, " ready for death." 

It was a long time before they took me away. The prison 
vans were so busy. 

I will not attempt to describe those last minutes I 
cannot, even now. 

In the prison van I was alone, though ten or twelve peo- 
ple could easily have been placed in it. I must be an impor- 
tant criminal. Through the small barred window in front 
I could see the backs of the chauffeur and the guard and 
catch glimpses of familiar houses and streets which I was 
seeing for the last time. 

Here is the Palace Bridge. Now comes the decisive mo- 
ment where am I being taken to the prison on the 
Gorokhovaya or to the Shpalernaya? We stop. The van 
doors are opened. Now I will be dragged out! The street is 
empty. At the gateway stand two men in leather jackets; 
their loud voices echo down the street. The air is warm and 
damp a light breeze coming from the sea. We halt for 
some time. We must have stopped for another passenger. 
He is hustled in and we start again. The new one sits op- 


posite me all hunched up, holding his belongings in his 
lap. His face is drawn and frightened. 

We are taken along the Millionnaya, the quay. We turn 
to the Shpalernaya and stop in front of the " House of Pre- 
liminary Detention." The gates are open; the guards inter- 
rupt their rough talk to order us out. 

" Get along! " 

We climbed out and up some stairs. The office of the 
prison was dirty and reeked of tobacco. I waited while my 
companion filled out his questionnaire. The GPU clerk 
put the questions lazily and indifferently; my companion 
answered in the manner of a diligent pupil loudly and 
with great readiness, looking his inquisitor straight in the 
eyes. From his tone it was clear to me that he was sure of 
his innocence and convinced that his arrest was a misunder- 

" How many times have you been arrested? " growled the 

" This is the first time." 

" Have you been in court before? " 

" No, no, of course not! " 

He sounded excited, nearly joyous, as though he thought 
he could never be held after such good answers. 

He was led away. No attention was paid to me and I 
waited a long time. At last they gave me a questionnaire to 
fill in by myself. This is better than answering oral ques- 
tions one has time to think. I was especially glad of this 
because I had on my mind one sin against the Soviet au- 
thority I had concealed the fact of having seen military 
service. I must not give myself away. 

" Did you serve in the Old Army? " " No." 

" Have you served in the Red Army? " " No." 

In answering the first question I lied, as I had served 
during the War. I signed under the statement that I knew 


the penalties for false testimony. What did it matter? 
Things could not be worse and I must fight to the end. 

I was taken upstairs to the fourth floor and on the land- 
ing they searched me and took away my necktie, braces, 
garters and shoe-strings to prevent suicide. It was disa- 
greeable to be left in such an untidy state. After all, one can 
hang himself with trousers more easily than with a necktie. 

One of the men who searched me was good-natured and 
treated me with some sympathy. He saw the apples I had 

" These aren't allowed, but, well, keep them. How about 
your bag? Well, take it, and get into your cell quickly! " 

The other warden returned. 

" Take him to No. 22." 

The clock in the corridor showed 3 A.M. It would soon 
be morning. 

CELL 22 


T was almost dark in the cell. At the noise of the open- 
ing door a man in underclothes got up from a nearby cot 
and, without paying any attention to me, spoke reproach- 
fully to the warden. 

" Comrade, you promised not to give us any more; I 
have nowhere to put them. There are less than a hundred 
men in No. 20, and here we have a hundred and eight/* 

" We are also adding to No. 20," replied the warden in- 
differently, turning the key in the enormous lock. 

The man in the underclothes turned to me. " Take off 
your things, Comrade, and hang your coat over there/* he 
said, pointing to a nail near the door, already overloaded 
with coats and jackets. 

I took off my overcoat and threw it in a corner near 
the grill. 

As soon as my eyes became accustomed to the darkness 
I looked about the cell. It was a large, almost square room 
with a floor area of some seventy square meters. The ceil- 
ing, slightly arched, was supported in the middle by two 
thin, metal columns. Opposite the entrance were two 
grilled windows. 

A platform raised about forty centimeters from the floor 
covered the entire cell. On this platform lay sleeping fig- 
ures: along the side walls two rows with heads to walls and 
feet inward, in the midle two rows with heads to the center. 
Between every two rows was a narrow passage, but in places 

CELL 22 

where tall men lay there was no way of getting by. At 
right angles to these a fifth row lined the wall adjoining the 
corridor. No passageway whatever was left here. 

Some of the men raised themselves and stared at me with 

" In this passage, to the left, under the boarding, the 
third place is unoccupied. Lie down there," said the man 
in the underclothes. " If they won't let you in, insist. 
There's room enough." 

" What do you mean, under the boarding? " I asked 

" Why yes, on the floor under the boarding," he re- 

I took a few steps forward to the spot pointed out to me 
and was amazed to find that on the floor there was a lower 
layer of sleeping bodies. To squeeze myself into it seemed 
impossible; I decided to return to the door. 

" What's the matter, Comrade? " 

" If you permit I will stay here till morning. It's too 
crowded there and I don't want to disturb the sleeping 

" Well, we must think up some arrangement for you. 
Have you just come from freedom? It shows. I've been here 
nine months already. Engineer L ," he introduced him- 

I also gave my name. 

" By the way, I'll enter you in the book," he said, " I had 
thought I'd wait till morning. I'm the foreman of this cell 
and I've kept this book for four months. See how many 
names! Thousands have passed through the cell." 

" A curious document," I remarked, " a good memorial 
for posterity." 

" Remember your number, you are logth, and now come, 
I will show you a place, but it's near the toilet. And please 
be quiet. Not even whispering's allowed at night. Rules 


are posted on the column, read them to-morrow or you 
may be fined." 

We squeezed our way along the rows of men to the very 
wall. In the corner, next to the toilet were two cots, close 
together, occupied by two sleeping men. 

" Lie down here," said the foreman, " it's a good place; 
the toilet is near, but the windows are open all night." 

With difficulty I crawled underneath the cots, arranged 
my pillow on the floor between them and stretched myself 
on my back. The two cots above almost touched each other; 
it was possible to pass one's head between them but not the 
shoulders. To sit up was impossible. A heavy, disgusting 
smell was spreading along the floor from the toilet seat 
which was not more than a yard from my head; a pile of 
stinking sawdust almost touched my pillow. Several men 
stood in line in front of the toilet. 

I felt very badly, a degrading helplessness was overcom- 
ing me. It was impossible to sleep, impossible either to get 
up or sit up, and there was nowhere to move as the whole 
floor was taken up by sleeping bodies. To save my pillow 
I pulled it down onto my knees, stuck my head out between 
the cots and leaned my shoulders against the wall. Dark, 
crawling dots were moving over the pillow in all directions. 

So began my prison education. For a novice it was quite 

Morning came at last. The cell began to wake up. Those 
who occupied the twenty-two cots were getting up cau- 
tiously and approaching the lavatory in a line. All the 
others remained in their places, although apparently the 
majority of them were awake. Evidently everything was 
being done according to a strict routine. 

A command resounded from some distance along the 

" Get up! Get up! Time to get up! " And as it was re- 
peated, it came nearer. 

CELL 22 99 

The foreman got up and in a dry voice commanded: 
"Get up! Smoke! " 

The cell became alive with motion and noise: talk, 
laughter, quarrelling. Smoke from hand-rolled cigarettes 
no others were permitted rose on every side. Long 
lines were formed in front of the toilet and lavatory. Now 
I could see how such a quantity of people had found room 
there during the night. It certainly was a clever arrange- 

The whole cell, except where the twenty-two folding 
cots were disposed at opposite walls, was covered by wooden 
boarding, the ends of which rested on low supports. On the 
top boarding slept the upper layer, under it, on the floor, 
a similar layer. All had straw mattresses a luxury in 
prison. It was impossible for those lying underneath to turn 
over, much less to sit up. Only after the top row had risen 
and the boarding had been removed could those beneath 
begin to move about and stretch their cramped bodies. 

When morning came the boards and mattresses were 
taken up and stacked. Then the general confusion became 
such that it seemed utterly impossible that order could ever 
be restored. The boards and mattresses were taken out for 
the day into an empty pasageway adjoining the cells. This 
was done by the prisoners themselves with extraordinary 
efficiency and speed. Once these were removed the chaos 
subsided somewhat; there remained, however, 109 men 
in a cell seventy meters square, part of which was taken up 
by the toilet, lavatory, cupboard for metal mugs and soup 
bowls and the personal belongings of the prisoners. 

I attempted to approach the washstand, but was told that 
I must wash last in accordance with the order of entry into 
the cell. Evidently everything here required special train- 
ing and exact determination of rights and duties, but be- 
fore I had time to learn and understand the rules of the 
cell I was summoned to my first examination. 



My name was called loudly from the other side of the 
grill. A passage-way was made for me and as I walked 
through the cell the eyes of my companions followed me 
with curiosity a newcomer. At the door stood a prison 
guard, a Red Army soldier. He repeated my name. 

" Tchernavin? " 

" Yes." 

" First name and father's name? " 

" Vladimir Vyacheslavovich," I replied. 

" Get going! to the examining officer! " 

One of the prisoners stopped me and whispered hur- 
riedly, " You are being taken to examination. Take some 
food with you, and remember one thing never believe 
the examining officer." 

I went back and put an apple in my pocket. 

" Well, get going! " hurried the guard. 

Out into the corridor I went. 

Again along stairways, through grilled partitions in 
each story, with clanging bolts and grinding doors which 
guards shut noisily behind me. The second floor the 
lunch-room for examining officers and on the counter im- 
ported cigarettes, cakes, sandwiches and fruit. Such a lunch- 
room could be found nowhere in the U.S.S.R. except in 
the GPU and Kremlin offices. Through another grilled 
corridor which led from the lunch -room we marched, the 

" YOU WILL BE THE 4gTH " 101 

guard following at my heels until he stopped me before a 
door and knocked. An indistinct answer came from within. 

" Get going," the guard commanded. 1 

I opened the door and entered the office. It was a small 
room, the size of a solitary cell plain painted walls, a 
small office desk in the middle with a chair on either side. 
On the desk was an electric lamp with a strong light di- 
rected toward the chair to be occupied by the prisoner. It 
was morning, but inside the room the dawn could not yet 
be felt. 

" Good morning," the examining officer greeted me, 
calling me by name. " Sit down." He was a young man of 
about thirty, fair, pink-cheeked, well-groomed and well- 

" Well, let's talk," he began. " Why do you think you 

were arrested? " 
" I don't know." 
" How is it you don't know? Don't you even have an 

idea? " 

" I have no idea." 

" Think well. Is it possible that you never even thought 
you would be arrested? No? Try to remember." 

" No." 

I was looking straight and firmly into his eyes. I was 
thinking no, my friend, you will not catch me on this, 

it's too simple. 

" No," I repeated again. " I haven't the slightest idea. 
I had hoped that you would give me some explanation." 

" In good time. Meanwhile, remember that we are in no 
hurry; we have no reason for hurrying. An investigation 

i In the terse prison language " Get going " has many different mean- 
ings, depending upon the words with which it is qualified. " Get going 
is often used as a command to go out for exercise; " Get going, with over- 
coat, but without things " means being taken to certain torture; while 
" Get going, with things " means execution, or, in extremely rare cases, 


rarely lasts less than six months, usually nine months, very 
often a year. You'll have plenty of time to think things 
over. And so, you will not tell me that you were expect- 
ing your arrest? " 

" No, I didn't expect it." 

In this fashion we argued for a long time, still with the 
same result. 

" Well, maybe later you will become more compliant. 
Let's get on to the questionnaire." 

He went over all the questions that I had answered the 
night before and I replied firmly without contradicting 
what I had written he would not trap me here. 

"Well! well! a hereditary nobleman and I, the man 
questioning you, am a hereditary proletarian," he drawled, 
accentuating these words with a ridiculous emphasis as he 
lolled in his chair. 

I was looking at him and thinking: " probably the son 
of a merchant; the face smooth, hands well kept, not 
those of a working man; you have never seen work in your 
life, and I have had to work with both my head and lianas 
since I was sixteen." 

" Your attitude towards the Soviet Government? " 

" Sympathetic." 

He laughed. 

" Why not tell the truth? You might better say ' loyal/ 
this is false." 

" I say sympathetic." 

" No, I won't enter it on the questionnaire, it's too ab- 
surd. Listen, this is a little thing, has no importance. I am 
asking this question only in order to verify your sincerity. 
Tell me the truth and I will deal with you in the future 
with full frankness. Believe me, I sympathize with you 
sincerely. We value and take care of specialists, but you do 
harm to yourself from the very beginning . . ." he was 
speaking in the light tone of a man of society. 

" YOU WILL BE THE 49 TH " 103 

I have heard all this already at the cross-examinations 
in Murmansk I thought and repeated with insist- 
ence; " Sympathetic. On what grounds don't you believe 

" I could refuse to answer your question, but to prove 
my sincere good will towards you, I will answer. You are 
a nobleman, the Soviet Government has deprived you of all 
privileges; this alone is sufficient to make you a class enemy, 
even disregarding your convictions which are well known 
to us in every detail." 

" You arc wrong. I have never had a chance to make use 
of any privileges of the nobility. I lived on what I earned 
myself; my scientific career was not interrupted by the 
Revolution. I want to remind you that this same nobility, 
his rank of a General and a high position, did not prevent 
my own uncle from becoming a loyal servant of the Revo- 
lution and a member of the Revolutionary War Council. 
You must have heard of him." 

, The examining officer kept silent, not knowing how to 
jjarry this unexpected move. He waited a few minutes, then 
rilled in the questionnaire, " Is in sympathy." 

Here at least was one small victory for me. 

I understood why he was insisting. If it could be estab- 
lished that I belonged to the nobility and was not in sym- 
pathy with the Soviet Government, " wrecking activity " 
would be a logical deduction. 

He made another attempt. 

"But you have criticized the actions of the Soviet Gov- 
ernment 1 " 

" No." 

" Again you don't want to be frank, even in a small 
matter like this. I will not conceal from you that your situ- 
ation is very serious, the evidence against you is very 
strong, you are in danger of being shot, but I am sorry 
for you. Be frank and I will endeavor to come to terms 


with you. Is it possible that you can assert that you never 
criticized the actions of the Soviet Government? " 

" Yes, I can." 

" What are you doing this for? We Communists, we the 
GPU workers, don't we criticize the actions of the Soviet 
Government? " 

" I don't know. But I never did." 

" Let's take an example: didn't the bread lines ever 
arouse your indignation? " 

" I believed the bread lines were not ' actions of the 
Soviet Government.' " 

" All right. Let it be as you please." He picked up his 
pen. " No, we will not put this down." 

" As you see fit." 

And here again his way of procedure was quite clear 
to me. If I had admitted that I had " criticized " he would 
have forced me to say that it had happened more than once, 
would have questioned me regarding when and with whom 
I had carried on such conversations, and this would give 
material for a " frank confession " which would have been 
classed according to Article 58, Paragraph 10 as "counter- 
revolutionary agitation " punishable by three to ten years 
in a concentration camp. The persons I might have men- 
tioned would become the " counter-revolutionary organi- 
zation," to which would be added the names of those at 
whose homes we could have been meeting, and this in its 
turn would be interpreted, according to Article 58, Para- 
graph 1 1 as " counter-revolutionary propaganda "; the two 
points combined would call for the death penalty. 

He thought for a while and decided to make one last 
attack in the same direction. 

" Is it also possible that you never told any anti-Soviet 
jokes? " 

" No, I don't like jokes." 

" And you never heard any? " 

" YOU WILL BE THE 4gTH " 105 

" No, I never listened to them," 

The face of the examining officer was becoming cruel 
and cold. He was looking straight into my eyes, watching 
every movement I made. 

" And do you know that one should not lie at a cross- 
examination? " 

" I know. I didn't tell and didn't listen to anti-Soviet 

We looked at each other suspiciously. 

This time my lie was quite apparent: there is not a single 
man in Sovietland, high or low, who does not tell such 
jokes. It is the only bit of freedom of speech left in the 
U.S.S.R., something that cannot be throttled by any cen- 
sorship or any terror, in spite of the fact that the spreading 
of such anecdotes is punishable as counter-revolutionary 
agitation by sentences of ten years in a concentration camp. 

" Very well. Your character and your ' sincerity * are clear 
to me. We will take it into account during the further 
conduct of the investigation. But " he suddenly again 
changed his threatening tone to an expression of friendly 
and frank advice "I advise you to give good thought 
to the way you behaved at this cross-examination. You are 
bringing about your own destruction. You belong to the 
nobility. We are not persecuting for social origin, but it is 
clear to us that you are our class enemy if only on account 
of your parentage. We need proofs of your sincere desire 
to go with us and not against us," recited the examining 
officer repeating words he had probably said hundreds of 
times before. 

I replied coldly and with reserve that I was guilty of no 
crime, that I was quite certain that it was all a misunder- 
standing which would soon be cleared up and that I would 
be released. 

" The GPU," he said, " never makes an arrest without 
sufficient grounds, especially in the case of an important 


specialist working on production. It was only after the evi- 
dence had been thoroughly checked and all the facts against 
you well appraised that I received authority from the 
Council for the search and your arrest." 

It was true. My arrest was at least a month late. 

" I am not going to submit these facts to you now, be- 
cause I want to give you the opportunity to sincerely repent 
and yourself give us all the information in detail. Only 
under this condition will your life be spared, but in any 
case you get ten years in a concentration camp this has 
already been decided. You see, I conceal nothing from you, 
I give you time to think it over. It's hard to act more hu- 

I kept silent. 

He also stopped talking; then, looking me straight in 
the eye, he said harshly: 

" You will be the igth." 

Evidently the first part of the program was completed. 
The examining officer looked at his watch. I had com- 
pletely lost track of time: the gloomy autumn day was well 
advanced. I did not feel hungry, only tired, although I 
had had nothing to eat or drink for twenty-four hours. 

" Unfortunately I have to leave now. Sign your deposi- 
tion." ^ * 

I carefully read over the scant information entered on 
the official questionnaire, drew lines through all the empty 
spaces and signed my name directly after the last word of 
my testimony. I knew that empty spaces in lines could 
easily be filled in. 

He folded the sheet I had signed and put it in his brief- 

" I will be back soon. In the meantime prepare a report 
on the privileges and duties you had at the institution 
where you worked. Then state the most important works 
you have recently completed in your laboratories." 

" YOU WILL BE THE 4 9 TH " 107 

He put on his coat and went out, and his place was taken 
by his assistant, who had directed the search in my apart- 
ment and conducted me to the prison. He read a paper, 
while I picked up a pen and enumerated my former privi- 
leges and duties. This was only a pretext to keep me longer 
and subdue me by exhaustion. Obviously the initial stage 
of the examination was over. They had not bothered to 
obtain exact information about me. That was clear. For 
some reason they needed my "testimony" and "confes- 
sions "; they would endeavor to force these from me, but 
would not forge them. This also was of importance. 

The short autumn day was over long ago. Lights were 
turned on again, but I was still sitting in the same chair I 
had taken in the early morning. 

At last my first inquisitor reappeared. 

" Well, have you finished? " 

" I have written down the privileges and duties; I have 
not made out, however, the list of my works, because I 
published an article in a technical magazine a month ago 
where such a list was given. I have nothing to add; it's 
difficult to reproduce it exactly from memory I might 
make a mistake. You may get my article and add it to the 
case, if that is necessary." 

For some reason this did not please him. 

" Remember once and for all," he said in a voice of sharp 
reprimand, "we don't believe in any printed material. 
You might have written anything there." 

" The article is signed by me and I am responsible for it. 
I can't write anything different." 

" Then you must write it down again." 

I was obliged to pick up the pen and write, although I 
was beginning to feel very tired. 

He kept me for about two hours more and then told me 
I could go back to my cell. 

" I advise you to remember what I have told you and to 


think it over carefully. Behavior like yours today will lead 
to nothing good." 

My mind was incapable of realizing anything but the 
fact that at last I was permitted to go. 

Again the lighted GPU lunch-room, where examining 
officers in military uniforms were eating at small tables, 
and with them girl employees in short skirts and with 
painted lips. Beyond the now familiar staircase with 
grills, and the celL I already knew where to go; the guard 
marched indifferently behind. In the cells lights were 
dimmed. Everything was ready for the night, so it must 
have been after nine I had been summoned shortly after 
seven in the morning. 

My first examination had lasted fourteen hours. 


XVLTHOUGH the cell was supposedly settled for the night, 
no one was sleeping. The foreman was standing by his cot 
in heated argument with two prisoners at the opposite end 
of the cell near the window. By the door stood a man in a 
fur coat holding his things evidently a newcomer. He 
seemed completely bewildered; here he was in prison and 
there was no room for him. He was the i loth occupant of a 
cell meant for twenty-two prisoners. 

I stood and waited, listening to a fellow-prisoner who 
explained what was going on. 

" Those two are criminals bandits. Their places on 
the floor next to the window and lavatory are a little wider 
than those under the boarding, but cold because the win- 
dow is open all night long. The foreman told them to take 
in this newcomer, but they refused, claiming that he has 
no right to put anyone in a place already occupied. He's 
a little at fault; he ordered instead of requesting them and 
this made them angry. They're not bad fellows, although 
real bandits, store robbers. The shorter one is Pavel Sokol, 
Sokoff, or Smirnoff he's the active leader. The second 
one, Vania Efimoff, is from his gang. There are nine of 
them in prison: two here, six in adjoining cells and one 
works in the kitchen and sleeps in the workmen's cell. 
The examining officer deprived them of the privilege of 
exercise in the yard so that they couldn't talk to each other, 
but just the same they talk through the grill. They're quite 


reckless. You'll see, even the cripple will come. He's in the 
opposite cell, No. 21. His two legs are cut off above the 
knees. He was their scout and receiver of loot their spir- 
itual leader. In the cell they behave excellently although 
they were put in here with us purposely. Attempts are 
made to incite them against us by telling them that we 
report their conversations. But they can't be taken in by 
such nonsense: they understand men better than the ex- 
amining officers." 

" Examining officers have no need of understanding," 
commented some one. " They sentence you to be shot 
and that's all." 

" Yes, it's certain they will be shot; it's a pity though, 
they're good fellows, not like petty thieves." 

While we were talking the quarrel was still going on. 
Sokol's voice carried loudly and clearly across the cell. 

" Comrades, you are wasting time. We have as much 
right to our two places as you have to yours. It's true that 
we are bandits, plain people, uneducated and you are pro- 
fessors and engineers; but we also are able to stand up for 
our rights. We won't give in. The foreman has no right 
to order us. I'm going to call a general meeting of the cell 
to discuss his action. I'm going to insist on his removal. 
In the meantime you'd better find another place for this 

I decided to intervene, feeling that I could come to some 
understanding with these bandits. I asked the loreman in 
a low voice whether he had any objections. 

" You can try, but I doubt if you succeed you can see 
for yourself how stubborn they are." 

I made my way to the window and in the same low tone 
said to Sokol, " Let me in with you. My place is next to the 
toilet; I can't sleep there. I've spent all day at a cross- 
examination and had no sleep last night. We'll give my 
place to the ' novice.' " 


" Well all right. Vania, shall we let him in? " 

Vania growled sulkily: " Oh, let him in." 

Then in a somewhat milder tone, he said to me, " It's 
cold here, you'll catch cold. The window is open all night. 
We're hardened to it." 

" I'm also hardened," I replied and, gathering up my 
belongings, moved over to my new place. 

" Lie down in the middle," invited Pavel. " It will be 
warmer and in the morning, when they come to wash, it 
won't be so wet," 

I thanked them and lay down. This was the beginning 
of a real friendship with the bandits whose attitude towards 
me was deeply touching. 

One of the prisoners brought me some cold soup and 
some cereal hardened into a gluey mass. I could not eat it. 
I drew out of my pocket the forgotten apple to the sur- 
prise of my neighbors. 

" An apple? Raw? How did you manage to get it 
through? It is strictly forbidden." 

" I don't know; they let it pass. I have some more, do 
you want one?" 

" Why of course we do," Pavel replied, with excited 
eagerness in his voice. " We're terribly in need of some- 
thing green. Here we are given nothing raw. That's to pro- 
duce scurvy. Vania is getting it already." Pavel nodded at 
his companion. " We get no fats either and that's why we 
have ulcers; sometimes they're simply terrible, especially 
on the stomach and back. Vania show your back! See! " 

Vania turned up his shirt. All his back was covered 
with dark purple circles the size of a pre-war five kopek 

" Have you been long in prison? " I asked. 

" Oh, some time." 

The wind was blowing straight on us from the window 
and was drawn along the floor to the barred wall opposite. 


There was no smell from the toilet here. I rolled myself in 
my blanket and fell asleep. 

I was awakened by my neighbor raising himself up and 

" Pavel Constantinovitch." 

At the bars stood a guard. It was still night. 

" Come on, to cross-examination! " 

Pavel began to dress leisurely. 

" Vania, you'll be called out too. Remember what we 
agreed not a word. Let them talk themselves." And he 
added something in thieves' argot unintelligible to me. 

The guard spoke to him impatiently. 

" All right, there's plenty of time, it's not a fire alarm," 
Pavel replied and continued to dress carefully. 

He was about thirty-five, of medium height, well-built, 
broad-chested. His features were regular, his face very pale, 
with a black, curly beard and small mustache which did not 
hide the outline of his upper lip. His black, soft, curly hair 
was carefully combed and trimmed a thing very rare in 
prison. With his dark eyes and shapely eyebrows he would 
have been quite handsome except for his apparent short- 
sightedness and his lips which were too soft and full. His 
whole appearance was that of a stage villain. And to my sur- 
prise he even dressed to fit the role: black, well-pressed 
pants, good shoes and a dark red satin shirt. 

He combed his hair, pulled down his shirt, tightened his 
belt and made his way lightly to the door. 

Vania was of a more ordinary type: very tall, extremely 
broad in the shoulders, a youngster who had become 
emaciated and pale from prison life. He also was smoothly 
shaven and dressed with some elegance. 

I had scarcely time to fall asleep again not more than 
ten minutes having elapsed when Pavel returned, un- 
dressed quickly and lay down beside me. 


" Well, how did it go? " 
" All right." 

" Why did they let you go so soon? I was questioned for 
fourteen hours! " 

" Yes, it surprised us. Apparently they're taking your 
case seriously. But why question us? I refused to answer 
questions. Let them tell what they know then I will 

" And how was the examining officer? " 

" He? well, he asked: ' Who are you? ' ' I am so and 
so: Sokol and Sokoff and Smirnoff.' ' What have you to say 
for yourself,' he says. ' Not a damn thing nothing.' Then 
of course he says, ' Don't be a fool, tell what you know 
about such and such a case.' ' Nothing, not a damn thing! ' 
He gets mad and says, ' I need to make an entry on the 
record and I can't put down that kind of answer.' ' What 
you have to do is no worry of mine. I also need a lot, but 
I'm not asking you for it.' ' Formulate your answer so that 
it can be entered into the record.' 'Well,' I said, ' you're 
paid money for it, formulate it yourself.' " 

" What did he say to that? " 

" Nothing. He laughed, picked up the sheet of paper 
and wrote: ' Refuses to testify,' and handed it to me to sign. 
'You see/ says I, 'you've formulated it; if you'd done it 
long ago, there'd been no need of talking.' I signed. ' Go 
back to the cell,' he says. That's all. They seldom try to 
frighten us; they know it won't go over." 

" And whom do they try to frighten? " 

" Those who've had no prison experience: workmen and 
peasants are always treated that way. They also try it out 
on intellectuals, if they see the man is scared and that he 
can be impressed by shouting and swearing. Some are badly 
beaten, too. But our kind will never let them get away with 
this, we're ready to do some swearing ourselves and we 
won't allow them to beat us up so they don't try. If the 


person's scared, however, they certainly abuse him, espe- 
cially if it's a woman. With some they can do whatever they 
please at cross-examinations, however learned and edu- 
cated they may be, but with us " he laughed " they 
know we understand all their dirty tricks." 

" In spite of all this I'm surely going to be shot," he 
added dreamily, " and he will be shot too," nodding to- 
wards Efimoff. 

" What for? " 

" We're being accused as bandits, that's why we were 
transferred to the Shpalerka, to the GPU. At first we were 
in the criminal prison. We robbed Cooperatives; broke 
into the buildings and carried away goods. That's only 
theft, punishable according to the Code by not more than 
five years at a concentration camp, but they want us sent 
to the ' left ' (to death) , and so they transferred us here 
to be dealt with directly by the GPU, without trial: Article 
59, Paragraph 3 and it's done banditry, armed robbery. 
We're not bandits; we never went armed, it's not our 
specialty. You know, everyone has his job. We worked in 
stores. I have been working at this for a long time; I got 
used to it and can't stop it. How many times I have wanted 
to stop, but I can't! There's a gamble in it: a chance comes 
along it's hard to pass it up, especially if one has had a 

" Did they catch you at work? " 

"No, they aren't bright enough. They were looking for 
me for a long time and never would have caught me but 
for my wife. They arrested her and tried to scare her, but 
it didn't work. Our women aren't easily scared, you know. 
Then they showed her pictures of different women and my 
letters to them and said, ' Here you are suffering for him 
and he's unfaithful to you.' This worked: from jealousy 
she gave away my hideouts and our storage place. She was 
released. How she cried later, but it was too late, nothing 


could be done. Many were arrested, and finally I was taken. 
If they don't shoot me, I will yet enjoy life. I'll escape, I 
won't be a prisoner, no matter what the sentence may be 
five or ten years in concentration camp," 

" But if they keep you in prison or send you to Solovki? " 

" All the same I will escape. A man can't be kept in 
prison if he's determined to get away. Perhaps if in a for- 
tress or chained to a wall, but from an ordinary prison you 
can always escape. If it's deportation, there's a way to do 
it during transportation. From the concentration camp it 
isn't difficult. We've had some experience/' 

" Why don't you escape from here, once you are threat- 
ened with execution? " 

" It's difficult to do it from the Shpalerka, almost im- 
possible, unless some opportunity turns up. From Kresti 
it is possible. Varna led three condemned criminals out 
of it. His specialty is locks, but he also understands plumb- 
ing. Did you ever notice the grilled sewer pipes which 
come out into the Neva? Well, such a pipe leads from 
Kresti. A man can easily crawl through it and the sewage 
floAV is small; one would not drown. It's only difficult to 
reach it because it's necessary to open and close several 
locks in order to destroy all traces. Vaiiia did everything 
perfectly: he led them out and stayed behind. The locks 
weren't broken the escape wasn't discovered for some 
time; later, he himself escaped." 

" It was a fine job," he added. " If my life is spared I'm 
not going to stay and rot in prison." 

Over and over again I repeated to myself, " If my life 
is spared I'm not going to stay and rot in prison," and 
so fell asleep. 



T was my second day in prison my second cross-exami- 
nation. I was called before the tea ration was given out 
and had only time to eat an apple. 

" How do you do? " the examining officer asked, scan- 
ning me attentively to see if I showed signs of a sleepless 

" All right/' 

" It isn't so good in your cell- You are in 22? " 

" A cell like any other/' 

" Well, did you do any thinking? Are you going to tell 
the truth today? " 

" Yesterday I told only the truth/' 

He laughed. " What will it be today not the truth? " 

Then he returned to the subject of the cell. 

" I tried to chose a better cell for you, but we are so 
crowded. I hope we will come to an understanding and 
that I will not be forced to change the regime I have or- 
dered for you. The third category is the mildest: exercise 
in the yard, permission to receive food parcels from out- 
side, a newspaper and books. The first two categories are 
much stricter. Remember, however, that it depends en- 
tirely on me; any minute you may be deprived of every- 
thing and transferred to solitary confinement. Or rather, 
this depends not on me but on your own behavior, your 
sincerity. The more frank your testimony, the better will 
be the conditions of your imprisonment/' 


He lighted an imported cigarette and passed the box to 

" Do you care for a smoke? " 

" No, I just had one." 

" I placed you in a common cell so that you can get 
familiar with our regulations. This is possible only in a 
common cell; it initiates you right away into the whole 
organization. You acquaint yourself, so to say, at first hand 
with our methods, and I believe . . . that you will become 
more compliant. We have discarded mediaeval methods; 
we don't hang up by the legs or cut off strips of skin from 
the back, but we have other means, no less effective, and 
we know how to force out the truth. Remember this now, 
and you will hear in the cell that this is no mere threat." 

He spoke slowly, looking me straight in the eye, empha- 
sizing his words with evident pleasure and relish, watching 
for their effect. 

" Did you know Scherbakoff? He was a strong man, but 
I broke him and forced him to confess." 

With great difficulty I controlled myself before replying. 

" I don't doubt for a minute that you use torture, and if 
you believe that this assists in discovering the truth and 
speeding up the investigation, and since Soviet laws permit 
its use, I would suggest that you don't give up mediaeval 
methods: a little fire is a wonderful measure. Try it! I am 
not afraid of you. Even with that you can't get anything 
out of me." 

" Well, we will see about that later. Now let's get down 
to business. Let's talk about your acquaintances. Did you 
know V. K. Tolstoy, the wrecker, executed in connection 
with the case of the ' 48 ' ? " 

" Yes, I knew him. How could I not know him when he 
was the director of the fishing industry in the north? " I 
replied in frank astonishment. " We both worked in it for 
more than twenty years." 


" And did you know him well? " 

"Very well." 

" How long did you know him? " 

" From childhood." 

His manner changed completely; he hurriedly picked up 
a statement sheet and placed it in front of me. 

" Write down your confession." 

" What confession? " 

" That you knew Tolstoy, that you were in friendly 
relation with him from such and such a time. I see that we 
will come to an understanding with you, your frankness 
will be appreciated. Write." 

He evidently was in a hurry, did not quite know what 
he was saying, afraid that I might reverse my statements. 

I took the sheet and wrote down what I had said. 

" Excellent. Let's continue." 

Then followed a barrage of questions about Tolstoy, 
about Scherbakoff and other people that I had known. He 
did not find me quite so tractable and we launched into a 
battle of wits that kept up hour after hour. He questioned 
me with insistence and in great detail, trying without suc- 
cess to make me give dates. 

" You'll not succeed in outwitting me," he snapped 
sharply. " I advise you not to try. I am going home to din- 
ner now and you will stay here till evening. This examina- 
tion will continue not for a day or two, but tor months 
and, if necessary, for years. Your strength is not equal to 
mine. I will force you to tell us what we need." 

After threatening me still further he handed me some 
sheets of paper. 

" You are going to state in writing your opinion regard- 
ing the building of a utilization factory in Murmansk, its 
equipment and work in the future. I'll soon be back; when 
I return, your comments on these questions must be com- 


He put on his overcoat and left. His assistant took his 
place, and I busied myself with my writing. It was three 
or four hours before he returned, already evening. 

Although I had eaten almost nothing for three days, I 
was still in good fighting form. He questioned me about 
the buying of a ship from abroad, trying to make me say 
that here was " wrecking," because the price had been ex- 
orbitant and the ship itself had proved unsatisfactory. It 
was most contusing and his questions far-fetched. We 
talked and we argued, but I would not give the answers 
he wanted. 

He began on another tack. 

" Well, and the wrecking in the filter factory? Didn't 
you notice that? " 

" No. I had nothing to do with its work, but as far as I 
know, the factory functioned normally." 

I certainly did not understand what he was driving at 
until he finally exclaimed: 

" Well, and do you also think that the floor at the fac- 
tory was normally laid? Did nothing happen to it? Wasn't 
it necessary to rebuild it in halt a year? " 

At last he had disclosed his secret. The circumstances 
were as follows: the floor in the cold room of the factory, 
where the filter-press stood, was covered with " linolite " 

a special composition material used in the U. S. S. R. 
because they could get nothing better. One night, owing 
to the negligence of the manager of the factory, a Com- 
munist, the tank with cod liver oil was overfilled and many 
gallons ran out onto the floor. The " linolite " warped and 
had to be replaced. The new flooring had cost 20 roubles 

the spilt oil more than one thousand. 

I tried to explain to the examining officer what actually 


" Well, and in this case, you maintain, there was no 

' wrecking ' ? " 


" On whose part? " I asked. " On the part of the man 
who spilt the oil? " 

" Certainly not. On the part of the engineer who inten- 
tionally covered the floor with a material which deterio- 
rates from oil? " 

My patience was getting exhausted. " May I ask you," 
I said, " what I have got to do with all this? What connec- 
tion have I with the vessel you questioned me about, or 
with this floor, oil and factory? Is it because my laboratory 
was located there? " 

" I need your opinion about these facts and your will- 
ingness to help us. And so you don't see any ' wrecking ' 
in it? " 

" No. I don't." 

" All right," he said. " And what is your attitude regard- 
ing the subject of the fish supply in the Sea of Barents in 
connection with the construction of trawlers as provided 
for by the Five Year Plan? " 

Now he had broached a subject with which I could have 
a direct connection. The evening was already changing 
into night, but I was still sitting in the same chair. I was 
becoming unconscious of time; was it my second day in 
prison or my tenth? In spite of the depressing weariness, 
mental and physical, which was taking hold of me, I told 
him that I thought the fresh fish supply should be minutely 
and thoroughly investigated. I tried to make him see the 
hazards of the fishing industry in Murmansk and the enor- 
mous equipment that would be necessary to meet the pro- 
posals of the Five Year Plan. 

" And thus you confess that you doubted the practica- 
bility of the Five Year Plan? " he said with a smile of smug 

What could one say? I believed, as did everybody, that 
the plan was absurd, that it could not be fulfilled. For 
exactly such statements no, for only a suspicion of hav- 
ing such thoughts forty-eight men had been shot. 


" No/' I quickly replied, " I only point out the necessity 
of investigating the fish supply of the Barents Sea. I fail 
to understand why you think that such an investigation 
would lead to a curtailment of the Plan and not to the 
contrary? " 

" Make a written statement of your conclusions regard- 
ing this subject. I have to go now/' he said with importance. 

He left me with his assistant and again I wrote. 

When he reappeared, I had finished. He picked up the 

" Think over carefully everything we talked about to- 
day. Tomorrow I'll send for you early in the morning. Go 
back to your cell." 

It was late at night. Everybody in the cell was asleep. 
Sokol awoke and insistently advised me to eat something, 
but I dropped on my straw mattress, asleep as soon as my 
head touched the pillow. 



WAS not sent for the next morning, and day after day 
passed without my being summoned to another cross- 
examination. So it was that my acquaintance with prison 
life really began on the third day of my imprisonment. 
The first two had been passed in the examiner's office. I 
knew only that in a cell meant for twenty-two prisoners 
were herded one hundred and nine men, and this number 
soon increased to one hundred and fourteen. 

There was insufficient air; a dense cloud of tobacco 
smoke hung over the room so that windows had to be kept 
open, and a strong draft blew continually between the win- 
dows and the grilled door which opened into the corridor. 
Many suffered from colds, and quarrels about the opening 
and closing of windows never ceased. 

When people are compelled to live together for a long 
time they usually irritate each other and hatred follows. 
In common cells strangers were forced to live together for 
months, sometimes even for years, in conditions so crowded 
that for each person there was only about one-half square 
meter of floor space. Only the high general level of culture 
of the prisoners in our cell and the strict regulations devised 
and enforced by them made life at all possible. They had 
regulated everything: the order of getting up, washing, 
using the toilet, walking in the cell, opening of windows, 
cleaning of the cell, keeping of clothing, bedding and food, 
order during dinner and tea and the use of newspapers 
and books from the library. 


In command of the cell were a foreman and his assistant, 
elected by the prisoners. These men maintained general 
order and enforced the established rules; offenders were 
punished by being detailed out of turn to clean the cell or 
wash the floor. The foreman kept a list of prisoners and 
had to know at all times the number of inmates present in 
the cell, taken out to cross-examination, punitive cells, 
hospital and so on. He chose men tor the various details: 
kitchen work, cleaning potatoes, stuffing mattresses and 
the carrying out of other prison chores. He was the inter- 
mediary between the prisoners and the administration and 
the arbitrator in disputes among the inmates. The fore- 
man and his assistant were privileged to sleep on cots, sit 
at the table, wash and use the toilet out of turn. Their 
duties were varied and most unpleasant, their privileges 

Seniority is of great importance; the novice gets the 
worst place, he eats standing and is the last to wash. In 
every cell one is supposed to begin one's " career " from 
the bottom and, therefore, those who had already spent sev- 
eral months in one cell, when transferred to another, have 
to crawl for the night under the boarding and suffer the 
disadvantages of a newcomer. The examining officers know 
this rule and, when wishing to make conditions worse for 
the prisoner, transfer him without any reason from one 
cell to another. In our cell the question had been brought 
up several times of changing this regulation so as to have 
the length of the entire stay in prison and not that in the 
given cell taken into account. Every time, however, the sug- 
gestion was voted down because of the advantage such a 
change would give to those transferred to other cells for 
disorderly conduct and to the " spies " who are continually 
being moved from one cell to another. 

Two or three of these spies are always placed in each 
common cell sometimes they are prisoners themselves. 
They listen to conversations and pass them on to examin- 


ing officers, but usually they do not stop there. Simulating 
sympathy they strive to find out various details relative to 
the case, family and personal circumstances and other use- 
ful information; and they urge the inmates to " confess." 
But a spy is very soon discovered and then he goes to an- 
other cell where he finds himself again in the least privi- 
leged position. 

The day in the cell began at seven o'clock when the mo- 
notonous command of the guards " Time to get up! Get 
up! Get up! " resounded in the corridors. Before seven 
o'clock, but not earlier than six, the twenty-two senior 
prisoners were allowed to get up. Each had thus three 
minutes for washing a great privilege. The remaining 
ninety prisoners must wash during the one hour, from 
seven to eight, before " tea time." 

As soon as the order to get up was given, noise, talk, 
coughing, loud yawns and the creaking of lifted boardings 
filled the cell. Cigarette smoke rose from every side. The 
air became thick with dust from the dirty straw mattresses 
which were being folded. Long lines at once formed to the 
toilet and lavatory. 

After the mattresses and boarding had been taken out 
and the cots folded up, preparations for " tea " were begun. 
The foreman detailed four men for bread and two for hot 
water. The bread, of poor quality similar to that found 
everywhere in the U.S.S.R., was brought to the cell cut 
into rations of four hundred grams each. Those who were 
receiving food remittances from outside did not always eat 
their ration; for the others it was insufficient, especially for 
the workmen and peasants who were used to eating much 

" Tea," or rather hot water, was brought in two large 
copper kettles remnants of the luxury of Tsarist days. 
Tea and sugar were not supplied to the prisoners, only to 


those who were ranked by the Bolsheviks as " political 
prisoners," that is those who belonged to the Communist 
Party and were detained for " deviations " and " leanings." 

Everybody would then rush to the cupboard where, in 
twenty-two slots, utensils for more than a hundred men 
were stowed away. Each of us had a tin bowl, a mug and a 
wooden spoon, but one was fortunate if at meal lime he 
could find his own. Finally everybody would get settled at 
the tables in strict order of seniority and from ten to twenty 
would be left standing. Those who received food parcels 
would drop into their mugs a small pinch of tea, a luxury 
even outside the prison. " Tea " drinking lasted until nine. 

Then came the call for general cleaning and the result- 
ing confusion. Tables, benches, personal belongings, every- 
thing would be moved to one side; and with them, all but 
three men. The cleared side of the cell was cleaned by the 
man appointed to this duty and his two assistants. The 
floor was sprinkled with sawdust and swept, and twice a 
week it was washed. When one side was done everything 
would be moved over there and the other side cleaned. 

The general cleaning lasted until eleven. During the 
period from eleven to one the prisoners from the common 
cells were led out into the yard for exercise scheduled to 
last half an hour for each group. Subtracting the time spent 
for roll-calls and passing through corridors it actually lasted 
only fifteen or twenty minutes, and took place in the inner 
yard surrounded on all four sides by the walls of the prison 
building. On account of the overcrowded condition of the 
prison the inmates of three common cells about three 
hundred men were simultaneously led out together, 
producing a great congestion in the limited space. But exer- 
cise meant a great deal to us; even fifteen minutes in the 
fresh air was refreshing after the terrible stuffiness of cells; 
moreover, we were permitted to talk at this time with pris- 
oners from other cells. Examining officers realized how 


much prisoners valued even this short period and, there- 
fore, as a means of coercion, exercised their power of per- 
mitting and forbidding exercise. 

About twelve o'clock newspapers and magazines were 
brought to the common cells; those in solitary confinement 
usually being deprived of them. One of the prison superin- 
tendents acted as distributor of papers and he made a fair 
profit on the job. Formerly newspapers could be bought 
in any quantity, but now, with the acute paper shortage, 
they were scarce even " outside " and for the prison the 
number of copies was extremely limited. Speculation arose 
among the prison guards who began buying up old, dis- 
carded magazines and papers and reselling them to prison- 
ers at the regular price. We bought these back numbers 
because we were willing to read anything to make life less 
monotonous, and we were badly in need of paper of any 
kind. Newspapers were, of course, always a cause of great 
excitement and were read through from top to bottom, 
including all the advertisements. 

About one o'clock preparations for dinner began. This 
meal consisted of soup and cereal. There were two kinds 
of soup: sauerkraut or barley with potatoes. It was sup- 
posed to contain beef, but the meat itself never reached the 
prisoners; it was thoroughly scraped from the bones and 
used in preparing various delicacies for the GPU lunch- 
room. (I know this because at one time I worked in the 
prison kitchen.) Only the " political " prisoners received 
a small piece of meat for dinner. 

The second course was a cereal (kasha) : poorly shelled 
barley (nicknamed " shrapnel ") , millet or sometimes 
buckwheat. Both the soup and cereal were cooked by steam 
in special boilers under high pressure, transforming the 
former into a malodorous, muddy liquid and the latter into 
a sticky substance void of all nutriment. 

Dinner time for so large a number lasted for more than 


an hour, although ten minutes would have sufficed for each 
man to consume his portion. Then the tahle boards were 
again removed and those who had cots lay down, the rest 
of us trying to find some more comfortable place on 
benches near the wall where one could lean back. It was 
the " dead hour " and we were not allowed to move about 
or talk. This was no easy time two hours on a narrow 
bench; many preferred to crawl under the cots and lie on 
the floor. At about four o'clock the command came to 
" get up " and the preparations lor the evening meal of 
cereal and "tea" began. 

So passed the whole day in petty bustle, endless moving 
about and waiting in line. The quietest time was between 
six and nine when it was possible to squeeze into a seat 
at a table and read by the dim light of one of the two 
25-watt lamps in the ceiling or else get into a corner for a 
talk with someone. 

This was also the hour fixed for lectures or discussions 
to divert the thoughts from prison actualities. Among the 
prisoners were many men of diverse specialties. I remem- 
ber listening to lectures on "The Manufacture of Glass," 
" Iron," " Contemporary Views of the Structure of Mat- 
ter," and many other topics. I was asked to speak on 
geographical and biological subjects, and I tried to tell 
in the most interesting manner about the different coun- 
tries I had visited during my numerous expeditions, re- 
calling incidents, types of people and anything that would 
at least for a time cause prison life to be forgotten. Some- 
times I succeeded. The whole cell, including the workmen, 
peasants and criminals who could not understand many of 
the other talks, listened attentively. 

The common people were always friendly to me. I never 
felt that animosity between the intellectual and the man 
from the crowd which Dostoevski describes in his " Mem- 
oirs from the House of the Dead " and which is also de- 


scribed by others who had formerly been in exile. I often 
met with a thoughtfulness and kindness on their part 
which touched me deeply. 

During my first lecture, the subject of which was my ex- 
pedition into Western Mongolia to the sources of the Ir- 
tish, I noticed with surprise that the criminals listened to 
me with excited attention. My young bandit friend, Vania 
Efimoff, who was unable to say anything without swearing, 
looked straight at my mouth, afraid to lose a word. Once 
in a while he would let out a cry of enthusiasm which he 
could not restrain. 

" Ah, son of a bitch, how he speaks! You could not read 
the like even in a book! " 

This lecture of mine appealed to his adventurous heart 
and he became touchingly devoted to me. He liked to sit 
down on the floor near my bench, to put his head on my 
knees and dream and plan that, in case we both were freed, 
I would go on an expedition again and take him along. 
Alas! He knew too well that these were only dreams. 

One day, sitting near me thus, he told me the story of 
his short life he was only eighteen years old. His father, 
a peasant and a poor one, was left a widower with five chil- 
dren, the oldest of whom, Vania, was then seven. Later, 
the father took a second wife, a rich widow, but in doing so 
deceived another woman about whom Vania knew. So 
at the age of nine he left his father, whom he now despised, 
and went away with his two brothers aged seven and five. 
He left the girls with his father, but the boys he decided 
to take care of by stealing in the market. Thus began his 
thief's career prison colonies for young criminals, es- 
capes, new imprisonments, gradual specialization in theft 
and, finally, the accusation of banditry. None the less he 
cherished a firm belief that there should be in man justice, 
truth, principles and honesty which he demanded even in 
prison life. 


For example: once it so happened that the task of wash- 
ing the cell fell to a tradesman imprisoned with us. Wash- 
ing the cell is dirty, disagreeable work; only the old and 
the sick are freed from it. This tradesman made an arrange- 
ment with a workman, imprisoned for stealing soup from a 
cooperative store, who agreed to do his task for one rouble. 
Efimoff found out about this agreement, and as soon as the 
workman began washing the floor he dashed at him and in 
a voice vibrating with rage declared that he would not let 
him do it, that it was cowardice for prisoners to employ 
each other. Seeing that the affair was going to end in a 
fight Vania was strong and agile the workman backed 
out and returned the rouble to its owner. 

" If you have no money, ask for it and we will gladly 
share, but do not sell yourself in prison," grumbled Vania. 

Vania rendered me many a service, but one was espe- 
cially touching. In one of her early packages to me my wife 
sent a little tobacco in a pouch made from a piece of an 
old silk dress of hers. I lost it one day when we were taking 
our mattresses out of the cell. Vania noticed that I was 
grieved and insisted on finding out what the matter was. 
He crawled all over the cell, looked under every plank, 
quarrelled with half of the people, but found the pouch 
and brought it to me with a victorious and joyful air, as 
if it were a happiness for him, too. 

" I understand," he said, " it comes from home." 

I carried this pouch with me through all my prison 

Undoubtedly Efimoff could have been developed into 
a steady, strong man. But the Soviet system, which likes to 
boast of its ability to reeducate people, preferred to " liqui- 
date " him, in spite of his eighteen years. 

One evening, as we all were going to sleep, Efimoff and 
Pavel Sokol were called out " with their belongings." Near 
the door of the cell stood several guards and the assistant 


commissar of the prison. There could be no doubt exe- 

Vania had hidden a knife which the criminals used for 

" Hey! Shall we? " he asked Pavel. " It's easier to die in 
a fight." 

" Leave it! " answered Pavel with artificial calmness. 
" The devil take them! " 

He spoke slowly and evenly, but the cigarette between 
his lips, his last one, trembled and would not light. Pavel 
walked out slowly, bent over, as if with great effort; Vania 
with quick steps, his eyes shining. As he reached the door 
he shouted loudly: 

" Do not remember me unkindly, comrades! Good-bye! " 


I became acquainted with everyone in the cell, 

knew all of them by sight, learned the names of many, 
what they were accused of, how long they had been in 
prison, what kind of " pressure " the examiners used, and 
so on. I collected a lot of new information which I only 
vaguely suspected when free. I also learned quite a few les- 
sons: how the investigation is conducted, what methods 
are used to obtain a confession. I saw the results of sub- 
mitting to the will of the prosecutor and becoming a 
" novelist," that is to say, writing fantastic confessions ac- 
cording to directions given by the GPU. 

To understand the life of those imprisoned in the 
U.S.S.R. while their cases are under investigation it is 
necessary to realize fully that the prison regime is intended, 
first of all, to weaken the prisoner morally and physically 
and break down his resistance, thus making easier the task 
of obtaining from him " voluntary confessions " of crimes 
he had never committed. The examining officer not only 
determines the prisoner's regime allowing or forbidding 
exercise, remittance of food parcels, visits with relatives, 
reading of books but he also has the right to transfer the 
prisoner to the dark cell or to punishment cells ordi- 
nary, hot, cold, wet and so on. 

The punitive cell in the prison of preliminary detention 
in the U.S.S.R. has lost its initial function as a punishment 
for breaking prison regulations and serves only as a means 


of coercion during the conduct of the investigation. The 
prison administration has no power over the prisoners and 
only fulfills the orders of examining officers. 

The purpose of solitary confinement is to force a man, 
who is depressed by threats of violent death and torture, to 
remain alone with his fears, without any possibility of dis- 
traction or moral support and encouragement from others. 
Those confined in solitary cells often lose their minds and 
after six months of this regime the majority suffer from 

The " double cell " ( single cell into which two men are 
placed) is perhaps the easiest form of imprisonment, but 
in this case the welfare of the prisoner is entirely depend- 
ent upon the companion assigned to him by the examining 
officer. Sometimes his companion is a man violently insane 
who attempts to do him harm and beats him, or else one 
afflicted by melancholia, who is continually attempting to 
commit suicide. In other instances he may be a criminal 
who causes annoyance by his rough behavior and pro- 
fanity or a man suffering from venereal disease, or even a 
spy who in the cell keeps up a conversation bearing on the 
subjects covered at cross-examinations and who persistently 
advises compliance with the wishes of the examining officer 
and the signing of the " confession." 

The common cell depresses by its filth and vermin, but 
more than anything else by its crowded condition which 
forbids eating or sleeping in peace, and does not allow a 
minute of real rest. The prison diet serves the same pur- 
pose the weakening of the prisoners. Although sufficient 
in quantity it is intentionally lacking in vitamins and con- 
tains almost no fats hence scurvy and boils. Sufferers 
from scurvy are more compliant, more amenable to the 
"exhortations" of examining officers than healthy ones, 
and can be made to sign anything. 

The people in the cell knew that I had been arrested in 


connection with the case of the " 48 " and that I was threat- 
ened with execution. I saw much sympathy from everyone. 
They taught me how to behave, gave me all sorts of advice. 
In prison nobody was afraid to talk of his " case," of the 
questionings, tortures, falsification by the GPU of cross- 
examination reports, forgery of signatures and the like 
topics which outside the prison could only be discussed 
with a most intimate friend, behind closed doors. 

What was striking at first was the extreme pallor of the 
prisoners, the result of a long sojourn in prison their 
colorless faces, overgrown beards and hair, dusty and 
shabby clothes. In the filth of the cell they could not look 
otherwise. And yet, the majority in this cell were not only 
intellectuals, but foremost specialists in their lines, men 
with well-known names and reputations. For instance, 
there were two professors of the Petrograd University, sev- 
eral professors and instructors of technical and engineering 
schools, many engineers in different lines, technicians, 
railroad men, aviators, artillery officers, naval officers and, 
finally, clergymen. We had representatives of most of the 
largest factories, such as Putilov, Obouhov, Prohorov, and 
also many men of purely scientific careers, who had spent 
all their lives in laboratories, or in university chairs. Un- 
fortunately I cannot speak of them here, for men of im- 
portant individual ability cannot be described as a group. 
To tell of their work and its significance for Russian sci- 
ence and culture and to unfold the grippingly tragic 
picture of the transfer of the Russian intelligentsia into 
prison and penal servitude remains for another. Only he 
who gains admission to the secret archives of the GPU will 
some day reveal the unbelievable history of the destruction 
of a whole generation of men of science. 

" In no other place in the world is the work of scientists 
valued so highly as in the U.S.S.R.; in no other place in 


the world is the work of specialists the object of such care 
as in the U.S.S.R." So speak the Soviet statesmen and the 
Soviet press. 

In order to appraise these words I would suggest that they 
cast a glance into the prison kitchens in Moscow, Lenin- 
grad, Kiev, Kharkov and other cities of the Union. There, 
huddled together on narrow wooden benches, with thin, 
sharpened-down dinner knives in hand sit professors and 
other educated and cultured men. In front of them are 
bags with dirty, rotten potatoes which in " capitalistic " 
countries would not be used even to feed pigs; and here 
these men sit diligently, seriously and clumsily peeling 
such potatoes for the prison soup. 

But many went willingly to such work, for owing to the 
painful monotony of prison life and the enforced, endless 
idleness even this work seemed a distraction and rest. Be- 
sides, in the kitchen one sometimes succeeded in stealing 
or begging an onion head. The need of raw food was so 
great among us, suffering from scurvy as we were, that 
every one of us would have gladly worked a whole day at 
any kind of labor, if by so doing we could only obtain a bit 
of onion. But the examining officers allowed this kind of 
escape from the demoralizing prison boredom only when 
they considered the case completed and had ceased to exert 
pressure. Highly qualified engineers competed for the right 
to do plumbing jobs, repair locks, electric lighting and tele- 
phones. Learned professors claimed the jobs of polishing 
floors and cleaning stairs. One clergyman, until his execu- 
tion, was for a long time in charge of the boiler. Literally 
hundreds of men of the highest education and with a 
knowledge of foreign languages registered for work in the 
library. But the GPU adhered firmly to the principle that 
the prison regime exists first of all for the purpose of exert- 
ing pressure on the prisoner and it was only the examining 
officer who could grant these greatest of privileges. One of 


these was the right to work in the packing-box shop. This 
shop was located in the yard out in the open, and work was 
carried on there in every kind of weather. Clothes were 
not supplied for this work, so that those who had no warm 
coat or footwear were unable to work there in winter. All 
this was not easy and the working day was twelve hours 
long, but the " boxes " afforded a chance of remaining out 
of doors and in addition this was the only work for which 
money was paid. After having acquired some experience it 
was possible to earn about one rouble a day. Of course, in 
prison one could spend money only on newspapers, but 
everyone was faced with deportation and forced labor and 
many could not count on any help from " outside," so that 
the prison rouble represented a real treasure. 

The only ones who did not aspire to work were the old- 
timers of the prison. There were only a few of these, but 
one of them had been in prison already for over two years. 
We could not discover exactly why they were being held 
so long or of what they were accused. The case of one of 
them apparently had been hopelessly complicated owing 
to a mistake in a name. He had been sentenced to ten years 
in concentration camp and then had been returned from 
Popoff Island, the distributing point of the camp, but his 
case was still dragging along. Others had either been for- 
gotten or had ceased to interest the examining officers. Hav- 
ing outlived all excitement and fear they had now become 
apathetic and indifferent to everything except the trifles of 
prison routine which for them had taken the place of real 

" You are too young, you still know nothing," an old 
German liked to say. "Stay as long as I have and then you 
will learn. Two years and a half! Is that the way to sweep 
the floor! Here's how it should be done." 

And he would pick up the broom and explain to the 


novice the principles of sweeping the floor which he had 
worked out for himself. Others would expound in a didac- 
tic manner the rules for washing, exercise and meals. Keep- 
ing strictly to the established prison routine these old- 
timers nevertheless spent the day according to a special 
system of their own. They got up before the official time 
and, without hurrying, thoroughly washed themselves, un- 
ceremoniously splashing the novices who slept on the floor. 
Then they carefully folded up their bedding and cots, 
timing this task so as to finish it exactly at the moment of 
the general " getting up." And during the ensuing com- 
motion and forming of lines they leisurely stood to one 
side smoking rolled cigarettes in home-made holders. 

Their attitude towards food was original. Provisions 
which they received in remittances were divided into daily 
rations and wrapped in a special way in paper or packed 
in small bags. They would drop a small pinch of tea into 
their mugs, then carefully cover them up with a piece of 
paper cut out in advance and wait with a dignified air for 
the tea to steep. They even ate the prison kasha seasoning 
it with butter received in remittances. The prison soup 
they improved by adding to it small pieces of bread or 
salted cucumber one of the favorite remittance items. 
They had their own favorite soups and kashas: some pre- 
ferring barley cereal, others millet. There were no other 
varieties. They had already been eating these for a year or 
two, yet still continued to discuss their merits and draw- 

All day long they played chess, checkers or dominoes, 
giving themselves with such earnestness to their games that 
they considered everything else a hindrance to what had 
become their calling in life. With difficulty would they 
tear themselves away from the game to eat or go out for 
exercise and they were greatly annoyed when preparations 
for the night halted their games. 


Their eccentric egoism, possible only under prison con- 
ditions, expressed by a complete indifference to and dis- 
regard of all the hardships experienced by other prisoners, 
had reached such proportions that they would not even 
stop their game of dominoes when men were being led out 
of the cell to be shot. The harsh voice of the guard would 
be heard from the other side of the bars: " Well, get going, 
hurry up! " The victim would collect his things with 
trembling hands and murmur his last " Good-bye, com- 
rades," and still they would continue slapping down their 
home-made dominoes. 

Yet once these men had been human beings! Were 
they by nature sullen and serious, thoughtful only 
of themselves, or was it that the GPU had changed 
a group of lively, energetic men into such miserable cari- 

Many men over seventy years of age passed through the 
large cell in which I was confined. One of them especially 
attracted attention. He was extremely thin, delicately 
built, with hands and feet so fragile that it was frightful 
to look at them. He could not bend his knees and his legs, 
encased in puttees, looked like those of some strange bird. 
His head, completely bald and covered with yellowish skin, 
was unsteady on a long, thin neck. He wore huge, dark- 
rimmed spectacles that made his eyes enormous; his sharp 
nose almost touched his chin across a toothless mouth. His 
eyesight was poor and he was almost deaf. Eating was most 
difficult for him; he would lose his spoon and then his 
bread, while both lay right under his hand. He would 
search for something in his bag, grumble that everything 
was done wrong and then forget what he was looking for. 
Sometimes he would fall asleep while sitting up; at other 
times he would have fainting spells and we would ask for 
the doctor, but by the time the doctor's assistant could ar- 


rive, usually in about two hours or more, he would sud- 
denly sigh and come to life. 

He had been accused of espionage, because his married 
niece, who lived in Vladivostok, escaped abroad. He him- 
self had not left Petersburg and had forgotten when he had 
seen her last. I do not know his final destiny. 

During our walks in the courtyard of the prison I 
noticed another old man of striking appearance also not 
less than seventy years old. He wore an amazing old black 
coat patched with all sorts of materials, including red vel- 
vet draperies. Accused of having been the leader in some 
" espionage organization," he was later shot. 

There were boys, too, in the cell, really mere children. 
Two of them, a German and an Armenian, came from edu- 
cated families. The German, pale, thin and awkward as 
youths often are, a dreamer, wished to see the world about 
which he had read in books or perhaps in Soviet periodicals 
such as " The Pathfinder " or " World of Adventure." The 
Armenian practical and gay, wanted to make his fortune 
in the despised " capitalistic " world. Both chose the classic 
way of escape, they were stowaways in the coal bunkers of 
a foreign steamer. Discovered by the secret police, they 
were arrested and sent to the headquarters of the GPU. 
What they went through they never told. Now they were in 
prison, while the GPU was compiling a " case " of espio- 
nage against them. Very likely they would have to go to a 
prison camp. According to the Soviet Criminal Code the 
punishment for illegal crossing of the frontier is three 
months' imprisonment. But these crimes are always taken 
up by the GPU and not by the court, and the punishment 
becomes five to ten years in prison camp. The GPU reasons 
as follows: any attempt to leave the country must be es- 
pionage, because if it succeeded the fugitive, even though 
a child, would tell of what was going on in the U.S.S.R. 


and foreigners must not know. The reality of Soviet life 
must not be published or advertised. 

Three other boys in our cell were guilty of a domestic 
crime. They were children of workmen, fifteen to sixteen 
years old, pupils in a secondary school. Boys of that age are 
always hungry, and in the U.S.S.R. they are obliged to be 
satisfied with lean soup, potatoes and cereal in a very 
restricted quantity. When returning from school one day 
they passed a market in front of which a man offered quite 
openly to sell them extra bread-cards at a very low price. 
They yielded to the temptation, bought the cards and joy- 
ously entered the cooperative store to buy the bread, de- 
lighted at the thought that they would no longer have to 
be satisfied with the stingy slices given them by their 
mothers. No sooner had they made their purchases than 
they were arrested by agents of the GPU. 

" Eh, boys, wasn't the man who arrested you the same 
one who sold you the cards? " jokingly asked one of our 

The boys were embarrassed and did not know what to 

" That's it, you should be careful from whom you buy," 
added one of the workmen in a fatherly tone. 

These boys behaved very timidly while in the cell, as if 
they felt embarrassed that they were placed together with 
grown-ups, mostly educated, " important " people. 

" If we were only set free," said one of the boys excitedly, 
" we would immediately find him at the market, the one 
who sold us those cards. It was his fault, and not ours 
and we said so to the prosecutor." 

" Of course, we would find him," added the other. 

A few days later it was published in the newspapers that, 
owing to the energy of the GPU, a large organization had 
been disclosed which speculated in bread-cards. 

" Well, boys, you are not the only ones caught," said a 


workman trying to comfort them. He understood these 
boys in torn pants, worn shoes and shabby coats. " You're 
not the only fools. They must have arrested some forty 
people and are boasting of it. Just the same, boys, don't 
expect to go home. We will probably have to journey to- 
gether at the expense of the State rather, at that of the 


JL HE percentage of workmen held in the Shpalernaya 
prison was negligible as the majority of them when ar- 
rested passed through Kresti and suburban prisons. Even 
in our prison, however, they were well represented as to 

Those workmen who were detained in connection with 
the case of the " 48 " were of greatest interest to me. Em- 
ployees and workmen of the U.S.S.R. had become accus- 
tomed to vote with complete indifference for or against 
anything as required: against "British lords" who 
looked down on the workers' state " through their mono- 
cles and lorgnettes," as one orator expressed it; against the 
Pope of Rome, who had proclaimed some kind of incom- 
prehensible " crusade "; against the execution of Sacco and 
Vanzetti, in spite of the fact that in the U.S.S.R. scores and 
perhaps hundreds were being done away with and nobody 
seemed to be worrying about it. The same indifference was 
displayed in voting for industrialization, collectivization, 
" shock " work and many other programs. A certain hope- 
less resistance was evidenced only when a subscription to a 
new state bond issue had to be accepted a subscription 
which called for no less than a whole month's pay 100 
per cent participation and which reduced yearly earn- 
ings by about 15 per cent. But, in spite of such a systematic 
and lengthy training in directed voting, not all workmen 
accepted calmly the suggestion of adopting the resolution 


calling for the death of the forty-eight " wreckers " of the 
workers' supply organization. As a result many found 
themselves in the Shpalernaya prison. We had in our cell 
three workmen belonging to this group. One of them, a 
Communist and a Czech by nationality, was arrested for 
saying at the meeting: 

"If there existed such wreckers, and if they were carry- 
ing on wrecking activities for five years, then the GPU 
should be disciplined for tolerating such counter-revolu- 

Well, he was himself " disciplined," with the prospect 
of deportation to a concentration camp. 

A peculiar case in the prison was that of a poet-prole- 
tarian. He did not belong to the type of wily individuals 
who called themselves proletarian poets, sang the praises 
of industrialization, joined the Gepeists in their drinking 
parties, courted the latters' ladies and in general, as it is 
termed in the U.S.S.R., were " gaining 120 per cent favor- 
able footing." He was a real factory workman, disinterest- 
edly devoted to poetry which he considered a service to 

He had written a poem about factory life. He had writ- 
ten poetry before but because of his shyness had never 
shown it to anyone. This poem, however, had seemed won- 
derful to him and he took it to the factory committee in 
order to have it published in the wall-newspaper. The 
poem in which he told of the hardships of a workman's life, 
the hunger in the family burdened by a large number of 
small children, was returned to him with the notation that 
he should be ashamed to approach the committee with 
such a " counter " (counter-revolution) and that in gen- 
eral his ideology was rotten and dangerous. The same night 
a search was made in his room; the returned copy of the 
poem, its first draft, two or three other poems and the poet 
himself were all collected and taken to the GPU. 


At the cross-examination, crushed by the catastrophe 
which had befallen him, he completely lost his head. With 
great agitation and hoping that I might help him with 
advice he related all the details to me: 

" The examining officer said to me, ' You wrote this for 
the purpose of anti-Soviet agitation! ' I explained to him 
that there was no agitation in the poem, that I took it to 
the factory committee and had shown it to nobody else. 
That's true, I hadn't shown it to anybody," he confirmed, 
looking honestly into my eyes. " The examining officer lis- 
tened to me, then took a sheet of paper, asked my name 
and the other usual information and wrote out a statement 
as if I was testifying that I had composed this poem with 
the purpose of agitation against the Soviet Government 
and had transcribed it for distribution among the work- 
men of the factory. He handed this statement to me and 
ordered me to sign it. I started to tell him that what he 
had written was not true, but he began shouting at me: 
' You damned fool, where do you think you are? Do you 
dare to argue here? Do you think we have time to be 
bothered by you? ' And he went on swearing even more 
wildly. ' Write,' he said, ' you son of a bitch, once I order 
you to! ' " 

" Well? " I queried, as he stopped and became gloomily 

" Well, I signed." 

" But why did you do it? " 

" He had ordered me. What else was I to do? " 

" If he had ordered you to sign a statement that you had 
killed your own father, would you have done it? " I asked. 

"No I don't know, perhaps I wouldn't have signed 
it," he said aghast, " but now, what shall I do? " 

He seemed in complete despair, perhaps realizing only 
now the irreparable consequences of his act and not hav- 
ing the fortitude to resign himself to the inevitable. 


" I didn't say it," he continued, " he wrote it all himself. 
I thought that if I refused to sign he would again say that 
I was against the Soviet Government* I signed, and now I 
see that I have destroyed myself. Some advise me to write 
a denial, that perhaps then they will destroy the first report. 
The examiner himself knows it is false. Why should he 
want to destroy me? I'm not a class enemy I'm a work- 


It was evident that after the signing of such a statement 
he was lost. The examining officer had drawn from him 
everything he needed and he did not send for him again. 
There was nothing for the workman-poet to do but wait 
for his sentence. 

Proletarian origin helped people out only incases which 
involved real, and at that, criminal offenses. We had such 
a workman in our cell. He had stolen sixteen pieces of 
soap from a cooperative store a simple case but the 
GPU had insisted that the theft, so committed, revealed 
a definite intent to harm the workmen's supply system. 
His psychology was completely Soviet but he was neverthe- 
less accused of " wrecking." The laborers in the cell 
despised him and called him " Soap." The professional 
thieves teased him, saying that he was degrading their 
trade. But at length the GPU declined to prosecute and 
he was told that his case would be referred to the People's 
Court, where he would be tried as an ordinary thief. 

" Hurrah for the Soviet Government!" he shouted, on 
his return to the cell. " Everything is arranged. ' Taking 
into account the proletarian origin, sincere repentance and 
low self-consciousness the sentence is to be considered con- 
ditional/ " he declaimed. " To our workmen's Soviet Gov- 
ernment hurrah! Go to Solovki without me! Good- 
bye! " 

There were in the U.S.S.R. periods of special persecu- 
tion of former functionaries, officers, intelligentsia, peasants 


and specialists of productive enterprises. These persecu- 
tions increased, diminished and again grew in intensity 
according to the various turns of the political wheel, reach- 
ing their climax after the promulgation of the Five Year 
Plan. The persecution of the clergy, however, which began 
during the first days of the Soviet attainment of power, 
never ceased. It continued in spite of the widely-heralded 
assertions of complete religious freedom which the Soviet 
Union tried to prove by exhibiting to " illustrious for- 
eigners " like Bernard Shaw some church that had not 
yet been destroyed. The citizens of the U.S.S.R. knew very 
well that clergymen were continually being arrested and 
that it was difficult to find a priest to read the burial serv- 
ice over the faithful. During my stay in the Shpalernaya 
prison there were always in each cell from ten to fifteen 
persons held in connection with cases involving questions 
of religion. And there were some of them in isolation 
cells, so that their total number must have been about 10 
per cent of all the prison inmates. They were formally 
indicted under Article 58 (Pars. 10 and 1 1) as being guilty 
of counter-revolutionary agitation and participation in 
counter-revolutionary organizations the penalty for 
which was from three years in concentration camps to 
capital punishment with confiscation of all property. 

I have already told about the GPU methods of building 
up accusations and staging trials. The fabrication of reli- 
gious " cases " was no exception to the general rule. The 
same wholesale arrests of people who did not even know 
one another; the same pressure to force them to give false 
evidence, to sign false depositions, or sometimes only to 
word their statements in such a manner that the church, 
for instance, would be called an "organization " without 
stating, of course, what kind of an organization; the same 
fantastically concocted accusations of agitation and plot- 
ting against the Soviet Power. These were easier for the 
GPU to build up than any other kind, because a sentence 


taken at random from any sermon, after misrepresentation 
by the examining officer, could be construed as counter- 
revolutionary propaganda. A few simple and devout old 
men and women, not appreciating the insidiousness of the 
questions put to them by the examining officers could, 
while answering quite honestly and sincerely, give mate- 
rial for further indictments. There was such an instance 
in our cell, a man whose two sons fifteen and sixteen years 
old were in the same prison, while his wife was detained 
in the women's section. Their only crime was that they 
were church-goers, but their position was hopeless because 
the boys, at the instigation of the examining officer, had 
signed a statement that they belonged to an " organiza- 
tion." This officer had told them that the church is a group 
or, in other words, an organization of the faithful and 
that any member of the church belongs to it. The boys 
testified that their father and mother belonged to the 
same organization, and the examining officer construed 
this statement as counter-revolutionary. Such testimony 
was more than sufficient to condemn them all to concen- 
tration camps, since in the U.S.S.R. any non-government 
" organization " is considered counter-revolutionary. 

The same methods were used to build up the case of the 
Cronstadt church, whose clergy, churcli warden and many 
parishioners were arrested. 

Besides these special cases, the Soviet authorities take 
advantage of every possibility to molest the clergy, and in 
nearly every " campaign " they were among the accused. 
In 1930, for instance, there was a shortage of small change 
and the government declared a campaign against " specu- 
lation in silver." Raids were organized and anyone found 
with more than 3 roubles in silver was punished. Those 
who had 20 or 30 roubles' worth of silver in their possession 
were shot or deported to prison camps. No law had been 
previously passed forbidding the hoarding of silver; in 


fact, only a short time before, there had been a govern- 
ment campaign to encourage savings arid the State Bank 
had issued special small savings banks for change. Now 
the possession of such a savings hank was considered a 
crime. This campaign against hoarding silver was very use- 
ful in " liquidating " the clergy. This is how it was done: 

Immediately after a church service, prelerably on a 
holiday, a searching party of the GPU would appear and, 
of course, find the change that the parishioners had put on 
the plate for the use of the church. The priest, the deacon 
and the church-warden would be arrested and accused of 
" speculating in silver." The " proofs " being at hand, the 
case would be settled without delay, the priest in many 
cases being sentenced to the highest degree of punishment 
shooting, the others deported. During this period the 
list of p jests accused in this way of " speculation in silver " 
was published in the newspapers with the intention of 
raising popular feeling against them, because, since small 
change was required of them for all payments to the gov- 
ernment (such as street car and train fares, telephone calls 
and the like) the population was really suffering from the 
shortage of silver. One of the priests who was detained in 
the same cell with me (where newspapers were allowed) 
read his own name in one of these lists, followed by the 
notation that the sentence had been carried out. Shortly 
after, he was taken directly from our cell and shot. 

Those who were arrested in the religious trials dis- 
played characteristic fortitude. Most of them accepted their 
arrest as a trial sent by God and as persecution for faith 
and truth and did not try to resist the examining officer. 
In some individuals this attitude stood out with special 
clarity and, of course, did not lend to any lightening of 
their sentence. On the contrary, the examiner never lost 
an opportunity to take advantage of it. 

Such prisoners did not try to conceal their faith and 


religion. Every evening they would gather in the corner 
of the cell farthest from the guards and sing prayers 
quietly, almost in a whisper. The general noise in the 
cell would cover their voices and they could not be heard 
by the guard in the corridor. 

Most of the accused in the religious cases in our cell 
belonged to the New Church, but there were also some 
representatives of the Old Church. One of the most re- 
markable men in this latter group was the priest, Father V. 
A cultured and educated man, he bore himself with such 
dignity and kindness that even the most worldly-minded 
people in the cell abstained from mockery and stupid 
jokes in his presence. He never spoke of his " case," but 
we knew from others that during his cross-examination he 
had been very brave and dignified. We knew also that he 
was in great danger. 

One evening in December 1930 at eleven o'clock he 
was called out of the cell "with his belongings/' This 
usually means execution. Father V. remained as cool and 
collected as ever, but he paled a little and his eyes gleamed. 
Quietly, trying not to wake his neighbors, he gathered his 
belongings, made the sign of the cross, saluted silently 
those who had awakened and left the cell. We felt sure 
that he had been shot, but later learned that he had been 
placed in solitary confinement. What his ultimate fate was 
I do not know. 



TU officials and Red Army men of pure " Red " stock 
could also be found among the prisoners. They were usu- 
ally accused of discrediting the Soviet Power while under 
the influence of liquor. It was a transient element which 
gained release with comparative ease, since examining offi- 
cers were not interested in building up cases against them. 
New men, however, were continually replacing those dis- 

Getting drunk in some public place or restaurant fre- 
quented by foreigners and Gepeists, 1 they would start boast- 
ing of their positions, thereby attracting attention, and 
the GPU did not care to have Soviet information carried 
away to foreign countries. 

It also often happened that such men would lose com- 
promising or secret documents. We had in our cell a man 
held in connection with such a case. He was a " political 
director," one of those who are attached to army units 
and whose functions are to " educate " the army and, inci- 
dentally, watch over the reliability and loyalty of mem- 
bers of his unit. He was a daring fellow and apparently 
a confirmed drunkard. In a state of drunken oblivion 
he had lost his brief-case containing secret documents. 
He could not remember why he had carried these with 
him to the party he was attending. He had gone some- 
where with somebody in an automobile, had drunk some 

i Gepeist = Gay-Pay-ist and means an employee of the GPU. TRANS- 


more and had gone somewhere else but he absolutely 
could not remember where and with whom, and he had 
come to his senses only when he had been put in prison 
and, at that, not immediately. He knew enough not to 
attempt any explanations and thereby give into the hands 
oi the examining officer additional material. But he hoped 
that the latter would understand his plight and discharge 
the case. 

44 As il they, themselves, didn't drink/' he consoled him- 

There were spies, too, in our cell, whose duty it was to 
watch the prisoners and encourage them to make incrimi- 
nating admissions. One respectable old man pretended to 
be a 4i literary worker/' During the early days of my im- 
prisonment he began to question me. 

" My case is simple/ 1 I replied. " They want to make me 
the 49th/' 

" Yes, so I heard. And don't you think/' he began softly, 
" that it might be wise to admit yourself guilty of some 
insignificant misdemeanors or mistakes in order to gain 
their confidence and indulgence? " 

" No/' I answered. " I have committed no crime and I 
respect the investigating authorities too much to delude 
them by false confessions As for you, I don't advise you 
to recommend that we lie to examining officers/' 

He went away with an offended air and left me in peace. 
I watched him, however, and soon convinced myself that 
he was starting similar conversations with every new spe- 
cialist brought to our cell. 

One morning Engineer V. was thrust into our midst, 
apparently very tired, with nerves on edge. He had been 
arrested at the factory, had been cross-examined all night 
at the Gorokhovaya and did not know what had happened 
to his family. General cleaning was under way in the cell 
and everybody was crowding into one corner. The old 


man came up to him. I approached them from behind, 
but my assistance was not needed. 

" Don't you feel guilty of anything, even if it is some 
very small thing? " I heard the old man ask. " I know from 
experience that a frank confession helps greatly." 

" All night long the examining oflicer urged me to do 
that very thing," calmly replied the engineer. " I'm tired 
of such kind advice. Leave me alone." 

The U.S.S.R. is the socialistic fatherland for the toil- 
ers of the world. This can be dearly seen by studying the 
men held in prisons and concentration camps of the Soviet 
Union; one can find there representatives ol workers of 
probably every nationality. And these are true toilers, since 
the bourgeoisie visiting the U.S.S.R. know what measures 
to take for personal safety and do not tarry long. The honor 
and pomp with which important members ol the foreign 
bourgeoisie and aristocracy are treated in the U.S.S.R. were 
reported by the Soviet press when describing the visits of 
Bernard Shaw, Lady Astor, Amanullah Khan and others. 
But the poor who are attracted by the rumor that there is 
no "crisis " in the U.S.S.R. and who go there to work re- 
ceive no official reception and often pay dearly for their 

Among those whom I encountered in prison were a 
Japanese, an Austrian, several Mongols and C/echs, many 
Finns, Estonians, Letts, Poles, Germans, Chinese and many 

The majority of foreigners in the prison were Commu- 
nists or people of extreme radical ideas, who, believing in 
the achievements of the proletarian revolution, came to 
the U.S.S.R. to seek protection against what seemed to 
them oppression at home and who dreamed of realizing 
their democratic ideals. 

Among these foreigners was a member of the Estonian 


parliament, a Communist. I do not remember his name, 
but I can yet see his broad figure, fair hair and short-sighted 
eyes behind thick spectacles. He had been imprisoned al- 
ready for more than a year and, evidently because of his 
prominent past, fulfilled the duties of corridor cleaner. I 
had no chance of talking to him but the other cleaners told 
that he had fled from Estonia fearing repressions for his 
communistic ideas and had landed straight in the Shpaler- 
naya prison. The curious part of the story was that before 
his escape from Estonia he had legally come to the U.S.S.R. 
as a member of a delegation of foreign Communists and 
had visited this very prison in the capacity of an honorary 
and distinguished guest. He was now able to see for himself 
how much prison reality differed from what he had been 

Later in my imprisonment I had pointed out to me a 
Czech, a member of the Central Committee of the Czech 
Communist Party. He had been called to Moscow on busi- 
ness connected with the III Internationale but, instead of 
being sent back home, had been arrested and finally de- 
ported to the Solovetski concentration camp. 

Another interesting case was that of the former Secretary 
of Agriculture of the independent Mongolian republic, a 
real Mongol. He was a cultured man, a graduate of the 
Moscow r Agricultural Academy. He, too, was made to come 
to Moscow under some pretext and was then sentenced to 
ten years of forced labor. I could never understand how it 
was possible for the Soviet Government to deport him, a 
secretary of an independent state but it was a fact. 

Perhaps one of the most pathetic foreigners in our cell 
was a workman, an Austrian citizen by the name of Stern 
whom I met the first night after my arrest. As I have al- 
ready said, I was assigned a place on the floor between two 
cots next to the toilet. One of these cots was occupied by a 


sleeping man, pale, drawn and frightfully dirty. He had 
on a dark woollen sweater worn next to the skin and al- 
most completely rotted there was no sign of underwear. 
Bed bugs in scores crawled over his grey army blanket and 
over his face and hands. One leg, in dirty worn out trousers 
and a filthy rotten sock, was sticking out from under the 
blanket. And such a strong smell emanated from him that 
I thought he might be dead. I abruptly shifted my posi- 
tion; he moved, turned towards me, opened his eyes and 
gave me a blank and lifeless stare. I spoke to him arid asked 
him how long he had been here. 

" Three years soon. Three years this cell," he replied 
in broken Russian with a distinct German accent. 

I began talking to him in German. He showed some 
evidence of life and told me his story, simple for Soviet 
reality, but one that workmen abroad might find it hard 
to believe. 

In 1925 three Austrians, one of them a Jew by the name 
of Stern, signed a three years' contract for work as special- 
ists in processing leather in a Leningrad factory. By 1928 
living conditions in the U.S.S.R. had changed for the worse 
and they decided not to renew the contrac t but to return 
home. All were then imprisoned at the Shpalcrka and in- 
formed that they would be released only if they signed a 
new contract. They would not yield, but the Austrian con- 
sul, learning of their plight, intervened though only in 
behalf of two. Stern the third was left to his own de- 
vices. He was forgotten. 

I gave him a spare suit of underwear and his eyes lit up 
with pleasure. 

" Thanks, thanks! I'll wash now. I didn't want to while 
I had no underclothes. I'm eaten up by lice." 

" Lice? " I asked. 

" Yes, lice. When one has no underclothes one is de- 


voured by them. Others get clothes, remittances I have 
no one, nothing." 

In his excitement he was talking loudly and our neigh- 
bors protested. 

" This is outrageous," they said. " They won't let us 
sleep at night. Isn't there enough time to gossip during the 
day? " 

Then came the dry authoritative voice of the foreman: 
" Stop whispering! " 

Later I came to know him better. He was disliked in the 
cell because he refused to wasli and was a burden to all his 
neighbors. Moreover for days at a time he would not speak 
a single word. Nobody else in the cell knew who he was 
or why he was there. Some believed him a madman, others 
a spy. It was not hard to take him for a madman. All day 
long he would walk in the cell, stop, look fixedly at the 
toes of his shoes and then resume his walk. Sometimes he 
would sit down on a bench, stare at one point and sud- 
denly burst into laughter. Then, becoming embarrassed, 
he would try to control himself, hiding his lace in his 
hands, but to no avail, and he would continue to laugh 
quietly for a long time. At other times he would burst into 

One day two months after my arrest he was called to the 
corridor bars and told to be ready the next morning with 
his things -w- he was being sent abroad. His eyes glistened 
and signs of color appeared in his cheeks. He talked, 
walked briskly about the cell and looked for something 
to do. 

In the morning he came up to me, wished me luck and 
release release before anything else. He asked for my 
address in order that he could return the underwear I had 
given him. 

" No, my friend," I replied. " I've only the prison ad- 


dress and there's no need to send anything hack. If we ever 
meet again, we'll have a glass of beer together/' 

At that he left. 

Writing now I remember him as a friend. It he ever sees 
these words and writes to me I shall be very glad. He knows 
what it means to start life anew alter one has been through 
a living death. 



OR a whole week I had not been taken to another ex- 
amination. This did not surprise me because in the cell I 
had very soon found out the habits of examining officers. 
The Golden Rule for a Soviet prisoner is this: Do not trust 
the examining officer. He always lies. If he says: " I will 
send for you tomorrow/' it means that he will let you 
alone; if he threatens: " I will forbid remittances," it means 
he has not even thought of doing it. However, knowing all 
this, it is still hard not to believe him sometimes. 

At last the guard called out my name. 

The examining officer, Barishnikoff, was sitting at his 
desk looking very morose. 

" Sit down. How are you? " 

" All right/' 

" I haven't sent for you for a long time; I'm very busy. 
Did you make any acquaintances in the cell? " 

" Yes/' 

" Did you find anyone you knew there? " 

" No/' 

" With whom have you made friends? " 

"With the bandits. Nice fellows Sokol and the oth- 
ers. Do you know them? " 

" With whom else?" 

" With nobody else/' 

" It's time to stop dodging and answer properly/' 


I shrugged my shoulders. 

" Your crimes are known to us. Drop your independent 
manner. You are a wrecker! Yes, you're a criminal and I 
speak to you as a criminal." 

" I am not convicted, I am under investigation." 

" No, you are a criminal. It's not a court trial here. Your 
dodging and cunning will only lead you to a bullet. I'm 
tired of bothering with you. Are you ready to immediately 
write out the confession? No? We will talk to you in an- 
other way. Well? I am waiting for your confession." 

" Of what? " 

" Of wrecking. You are a wrecker. You were in con- 
tact with the international bourgeoisie and the wreckers 
of the Soviet Government and you received money from 
abroad for your base activity." 

I laughed. 

" You laugh? Wait a while and you will see nothing 

"I can't help laughing in spite of the tragedy of my 
position. We are mature men and I have to listen to your 
accusations which can only be termed ridiculous. You 
know perfectly well that what you are saying is not true. 
You have searched my apartments in Murmansk and Len- 
ingrad; you have been censoring all my correspondence, 
have had every man I met under observation, have watched 
my income and expenditures; you know, as well as I do, 
that I haven't received money, nor even a single letter from 
abroad since the Revolution." 

" You refuse to confess? " 

" I have told you and I repeat again, I have never been 
a wrecker; I have never been in contact with any inter- 
national bourgeoisie; I have never received money illegally 
from anyone." 

He struck the desk with his fist and cried: " You lie! " 

I kept silent. 


" Well?" 

" I have no intention of carrying on a conversation in 
this tone. As long as you behave this way I am not going to 
answer you." 

" You refuse to confess? We will enter this into the rec- 

" I refuse to answer to rudeness and shouting. You may 
enter that into the record." 

" Intellectual's whim," he grumbled and changed his 
tone. " I can't waste so much time on you," he continued, 
getting out a sheet of paper for the record. " I will write 
down in brief your confession and you may go back to the 
cell. We will continue tomorrow." 

This comedy was beginning to make me angry. I kept 
silent in order not to say something rude. It was not to my 
advantage to have him lose patience and so I held myself 
in hand. 

" Well? " he said. " I am ready to write." 

" I told you already that I have nothing to confess to." 

" Why then do you make me write your confession? " 

" I don't make you do anything. Write whatever you 
please, if you need it. I will sign no ' confessions.' " 

" And tomorrow you will not sign? " 

" Certainly not." 

" And the day after tomorrow? " he continued threaten- 

I shrugged my shoulders. 

" And you will never sign? " he snarled in a menacing 
whisper, piercing me through with his eyes. 

*' I will never sign it, I have told you that already." 

" Then a bullet in your head! Do you understand? A 
bullet! A bullet in the back of your head, into the back of 
your head a bullet! " He was almost shouting. 

" Go ahead and shoot," I replied calmly. " I have noth- 
ing more to say." 


" We will send you ' to the left,' we will liquidate you. 
Do you understand? We will write you off." 

I kept silent and he continued, showing the richness of 
a special GPU vocabulary in its figures ot speech describ- 
ing the death penalty: " the highest degree," " to be shot," 
" to be sent to the moon," "to be written off the books," 
" to be sent out without a transfer," " a friendly slap," " to 
the wall," " to the left," " to spend seven kopeks," and so 
on. Evidently in this he considered himself an expert. He 
rehearsed these phrases, combining them in various ways. 
All this lasted for a long time, perhaps an hour. He was 
beginning to repeat himseli; I was teeling terribly bored. 
Finally he stopped and said with special significance: " You 
are wasting time in vain. You will confess. I have broken 
down better men than you! " 

" I think it is not I who am wasting time, but youl " 
I exclaimed in complete anguish. " I have told you 
that I never ' wrecked.' I have nothing more to add. If 
you find it necessary, shoot me; what's the use of all this 
delay? " 

" Not so fast. We are in no hurry," continued the exam- 
ining officer, subduing his voice. " Nobody can overhear 
us and there are no witnesses to our conversation. Admit 
orally that you are a wrecker and I will promise to have 
your life spared. Later you can repudiate your statement 
and there is no need of entering it into the record. I only 
want to see your sincerity, to see that you have surren- 
dered. That will suffice me." 

I kept silent and looked at him in astonishment. What 
was this new move? 

"I'll tell you frankly," continued Barishnikoff, "we, 
the examining officers, are also often forced to lie, we also 
say things which cannot be entered into the record and to 
which we would never sign our names." 

" Everything I say," I replied, " I am ready to enter into 


the record and subscribe to. I am not going to lie to you 
either orally or in writing." 

" Well, we are going to see about that later," and again 
he changed to an offensive. " You have stated in writing 
that you were a friend of both Tolstoy and Scherbakoff. 
Didn't you have a quarrel just before their arrest?" 

" No." 

" They had, therefore, no reason for denouncing you? " 

" None." 

" Well then, be it known to you that I have here," he 
tapped his brief-case, " confessions, written in their own 
handwriting, destroying you. All your wrecking activity 
has been disclosed by them and they have stated precisely 
when, from whom and how much money you have re- 
ceived. Two witnesses testify that you are a wrecker, and 
these witnesses are your friends. This testimony is quite 
sufficient for us to have you shot. I give you a way out 
confess frankly and wholeheartedly and you will save your 
life. If you confess you get ten years in concentration 
camp; if not you go ' to the left.' I am waiting." 

" All this is not true," I said with difficulty, keeping my- 
self under control and choosing my words carefully. 

" What isn't true? " 

" I don't believe that Tolstoy and Scherbakoff testified 
that I am a wrecker," I answered. 

" Let me ask you," he began with ironical politeness, 
" what grounds you have for not believing it? " 

" Only those which I have already mentioned: we were 
friends; I know these men as having been absolutely hon- 
est and will never believe that they could falsely denounce 
me. Moreover, you have yourself warned me," I added 
with a laugh, " that you don't always tell the truth." 

I saw that he was hesitating whether to display indigna- 
tion or turn my words into a joke. 


" Nevertheless, their depositions are right here," he 
laughed cruelly and again tapped his brief-case. " Do you 
want me to show them to you? " 

" Don't take the trouble, I still won't believe it." 

" You don't believe in documents? " he exclaimed with 
simulated indignation, and ended much more sincerely: 
" Your faith is of no interest to us. The ' Council ' will be- 
lieve and we shall shoot you." 

" Well, go ahead and shoot, the sooner the better." 

" Don't be in such a hurry. First you are going to write 
for us what we need. Your confession now can still save 
you, but later no. You might write, beg, implore, but 
we will still shoot you. We won't tolerate enemies who 
resist us." 

Again the same thing, I thought, " we will shoot," " we 
will shoot," but, when the point is reached they linger 
" We are in no hurry." How could one find out what they 
really intended to do with me? I shall not let them beat me, 
they will have to bind me first. 

As if in reply to my thoughts he continued: " I see that 
I am really wasting too much time on you. I am busy. I 
have to leave now and you shall wait for me, do you under- 
stand? You shall wait right here, standing in the corridor. 
I will return when I see fit; maybe in this way you will 
become more compliant. You shall return to the cell when 
you have written out your confession and a detailed state- 
ment not only of your own crime but also of the wrecking 
activities of Tolstoy and Scherbakoff which are well known 
to you." 

Saying this he donned his overcoat and cap. Then he 
opened the door of his office. 

" Please." 

I went out. 

" Stand here, so. Near the wall, but don't lean against it. 


Did you take sugar in your pockets? No. It's a pity, it would 
have come in handy now. Stand and think. I am busy. I 
will come back, but I warn you that I will not waste any 
more time on you." 

As he left, a guard made his appearance and began pac- 
ing up and down the corridor. 

So, I was given the " standing test." 

In our cell were several men who had been subjected 
to it. One, Engraver P., over fifty years of age and heavily 
built, had stood for six and a half days. He was not given 
food or drink and was not allowed to sleep; he was taken 
to the toilet only once a day. But he did not " confess." 
After this ordeal he could not walk back to the cell and the 
guard had to drag him up the stairs. His whole body was 
swollen, especially his legs; he stayed in the hospital for a 
month and could hardly walk at all thereafter. 

Another, Artisan B., about thirty-five years old, who had 
one leg amputated above the knee and replaced by an 
artificial one, had stood for four days and had not " con- 

Engineer T., sixty years old, had stood for four and a 
half days and had finally signed the " confession." 

" Well, it's interesting to test oneself," I thought as I 
stood there in the corridor. 

In about two hours Barishnikoff returned and entered 
his office without saying a word, but casting an enquiring 
glance at me as he passed. I put on an expression of com- 
plete indifference and pretended not to see him. 

In about ten minutes he came out and stopped in front 
of me. 

" Have you done any thinking? " 

" I have nothing to think about." 

" Are you going to confess? " 

" I have nothing to confess. I have told you that I have 
committed no crime." 


" Does that mean we should release you? " 

" Yes." 

" We should shoot you! Do you understand? A bullet in 
your head; remember that: a bullet in your head" and 
then after a minute of silence, " Go! " 

I went along the corridor, the guard behind me. 



RETURNED to the cell in a depressed frame of mind. In 
the presence of the examining officer I had felt more anger 
than fear; now, left to myself, I lost my assurance. 

There was no doubt that I would be killed as all my 
friends had been. My wife and son would be deported. 
This had happened to the families of the " 48." I would 
have to await in silence the day when I should be called 
out " with things," led along corridors down into the cellar 
where my hands would be tied, a bag thrown over my head 
and one of these scoundrels would send a bullet through 
the back of my head. 

Well, this would not happen! I would not surrender 
and die like a calf in a slaughter-house. I thought it all 
over and decided that at my next cross-examination I 
would kill the examining officer. The necessary weapons 
could be obtained from some of my crafty cell-mates: a 
table knife which they had sharpened for shaving, a file 
which could well serve as a dagger, or a small steel bar. I 
decided upon this bar. It could easily be concealed in the 
sleeve and was heavy enough to fracture the skull with one 
blow. But I must hit with accuracy; I must not miss. Of 
course, Barishnikoff carried a revolver with him but he 
was careless, especially towards the end of a cross-examina- 
tion. When he took his overcoat and cap from the rack his 
back was towards me. This would be the moment for strik- 
ing. He would fall to the floor, I would grab his revolver, 


rush out into the lunch -room and, if favored by luck, kill 
two or three other examining officers. 

I would be killed myself during the fight, but the pic- 
ture appealed to me. At least my family would learn how 
I had perished a more glorious death than execution. 

I lived with this idea for several days and it was not 
until I had talked with one of my neighbors that I realized 
I had not sufficiently absorbed the Golden Rule of the 
Soviet prisoner never to trust the examining officer. This 
cell-mate was an engineer of renown, accused ol espionage, 
wrecking and assisting intervention. He had been impris- 
oned for about six months and had been cross-examined 
fifteen times. But with his experience he looked at my 
case from an optimistic point of view. 

" You're getting along excellently," he exclaimed when 
I told him about my situation. " There is nothing to be 
gloomy about! I'm sure that the examining officer has ab- 
solutely no material against you. That he scares you with 
execution indicates that this is his only trump card. The 
' standing test ' has also evidently proved a failure. As for 
the punitive cell and the ' conveyor,' such tortures are only 
for those who are frightened and wavering. He might trans- 
fer you to a solitary cell but he probably knows it wouldn't 
work in your case. And you've been here long enough to 
know how to get along if he forbids exercise and food re- 
mittances. It's an excellent sign that he has resorted to the 
verb ' to shoot.' If he really had any incriminating mate- 
rial from your two friends, he would have dealt with you 
differently, keeping this as his final trump card instead 
of threatening you with execution. There may even be a 
chance that you'll be released. Certainly this happens in 
extremely rare cases, but it does happen. 

" Remember Engineer D. from cell No. 20? He was 
threatened for two months with execution and was thor- 
oughly exhausted. The last time he was sent for, the exam- 


ining officer, a burly ruffian, literally picked him up by the 
collar of his coat and put him on a chair. ' Stand,' he 
shouted, ' you son of a bitch, I will kill you! Confess! We 
will shoot you anyway! ' D. remained standing on the chair 
for two hours, and the next day was called out ' with 
things.' Later he sent us a conventional sign he had 
been set free. 

" You'll see that the examining officer will change his 
manner towards you, but don't yield. Stay calm and don't 
let him get the better of you. For some reason or other 
they need your authentic ' confession '; that's your trump 

After this conversation I made up my mind to hold my- 
self in hand. There was always time to kill the examining 
officer, I thought. Day after day went by and I was not 
called out for further questioning. 

Meanwhile another confirmation of how impossible it 
was to believe the examining officer was afforded me by 
the case of the young man who had been put in the van 
with me when I was being taken to prison. After the first 
cross-examinations he had been extremely depressed and 
discouraged. He was accused of espionage, an accusation 
with no foundation, but none the less the examining officer 
threatened him with Solovki. Although he belonged to 
the nobility and had been an officer in the army during the 
War, his ideas were very radical and apparently he sin- 
cerely sympathized with the Bolsheviks. 

A few days later he came out for exercise with a cheerful 
face the examining officer had told him that he was con- 
vinced of his innocence, had offered apologies for his ar- 
rest, permitted him to buy anything he wanted in the GPU 
lunch-room, had allowed him to write his wife to let her 
know that he would soon be set free and asking her, there- 
fore, not to send him any more food parcels. 

Then, as a surprise, the examining officer invited the 


wife to come and visit her husband, and during the inter- 
view had ordered tea and cakes, remarking jestingly that 
he was sorry he could not provide champagne to celebrate 
the happy occasion. They had been allowed to talk for two 
hours and, although the examining officer had been pres- 
ent all the time, he had behaved like a kind friend. The 
wife had asked him to let her husband go home then, but 
the examining officer had laughingly replied: " Not so 
soon, wait until Thursday" promising to have all the 
necessary papers ready by that day. 

There were five days left five more terrible days in 
prison. But he was completely transformed like a new 
man. Yes, the GPU was a wonderful organization; the way 
they understood men was surprising! I had on the tip of my 
tongue the words: " Don't trust the examining officer! " 
but I did not want to destroy his cheerful disposition. 

Came Thursday. He was so excited that he sat all day 
" with things " awaiting the call to freedom. He was not 
called out until evening. At eight o'clock the " cuckoo " 
made her appearance in our corridor. He was called out 
and given a sentence of five years in a concentration camp. 
The next day he was deported: he was not allowed to take 
leave of his wife, received nothing from home for the jour- 
ney and left the prison completely crushed by the sentence. 

" So you see," said my adviser, the engineer, " better let 
them threaten you with execution than offer good things 
from the lunch-room. But what a scoundrel! The sentence 
had been passed two weeks before, and the examining offi- 
cer, knowing this to be the case, had arranged all this as 
a joke." 

" But why? What was the sense of it? " I questioned. 

" Sense? Pleasure, my dear friend! They are sadists! He 
sent for the wife, arranged the interview for them and de- 
lighted in visualizing how carefully she would be prepar- 
ing for his home-coming and how he, in the cell, would be 


counting the hours and minutes. And then the blow! 
Deportation! And she would learn that he had been sent 
to the concentration camp without proper food and cloth- 

" Just like them," said another well-known expert and 
prison old-timer who had joined in our conversation. 
" And do you know the way in which a commutation of 
the death sentence is made known to the prisoner? The 
examining officer sends for him and then pays no attention 
to the prisoner when he is brought in. Then he searches 
among his papers and picks up the sentence, looks at the 
prisoner for a long time and finally gets up and begins 
to read loudly and slowly: ' Excerpt from the minutes of 
the meeting of the GPU council. The case of so-and-so 
accused by so-and-so was heard and the sentence passed. 
. . . ' Then comes a long pause. You can imagine the effect 
it has! Then still louder, emphasizing every syllable he ut- 
ters the words: ' TO BE SHOT.' Deathly silence follows 
and he gloats over the effect produced; then a few minutes 
later he adds: ' but the Soviet Government is lenient even 
to such criminals and the sentence of execution has been 
commuted to confiscation of all property and ten years in 
a concentration camp. Go! ' 

" The examining officers, at least many of them, revel in 
such scenes. Others don't bother with such details and have 
the sentences read by the ' cuckoo ' in a solitary cell or even 
in the corridor. The examiners get great pleasure out of 
bullying a man as much as they can. I can just imagine how 
they act during executions! " 

" You see," concluded my first companion, " how can 
one believe them? The examining officer lies to get you 
confused, lies for pleasure, having unlimited power over 
the prisoner, and lies aimlessly from habit. Our only de- 
fense and weapon is, as I have said before: don't trust the 
examining officer." 



-L t 

HE GPU has many methods of trying to wring confes- 
sions from its innocent victims. Most of them are threat- 
ened with execution, and a great number are kept in 
isolation cells and deprived of outside communication, 
exercise and books for well over a year. In many cases 
even their relatives are arrested, thrown into prison and 
sometimes sent to forced labor. 

Of the people whom I met, V. was subjected to one of 
the most cruel kinds of treatment. Kept for eight months 
in an isolation cell without exercise or food parcels, he 
suffered from a severe attack of scurvy. He had been a 
healthy and strong man of middle age, but one by one he 
lost his eight front teeth and those remaining became so 
loose that he could eat bread only after soaking it in water. 
Moreover, he had been subjected to one of the most hu- 
miliating and disgusting measures the transfer to Cell 
No. 16. 

Cell No. 16 was known among the prisoners as " Tairoff 
Alley," the name of the favorite haunt in Petersburg of the 
city rogues, prostitutes and thieves. Built to contain but 
ten or twelve men, it actually held forty or fifty and 
these, thieves, robbers and vagrants of the lowest type. 
Borrowed from other detention institutions, they made up 
a cell which was characterized by its loose discipline; fights 
and wild rioting never ceased and the air was filled with 


blasphemy. These prisoners amused themselves by gam- 
bling for money, clothes, food and tobacco. Even gold fill- 
ings from teeth were lost in this way and pulled out on the 
spot in the most brutal manner. 

Counter-revolutionaries, or " Kaers " as they were called, 
who refused to confess were put in this cell and left to the 
mercy of the regular inmates. Such " Kaers " were immedi- 
ately robbed of all their possessions and, if they offered 
resistance, cruelly beaten. To transfer a prisoner to Cell 
No. 16 meant that he would be deprived of everything 
that is most valuable in prison life: clothes, food parcels, 
pillow, blanket and tobacco pouch. 

It was rare for anyone transferred to this cell to remain 
unharmed. When V. was sent to it he found there one in- 
tellectual who in a few days had been completely beaten 
down morally and physically. All his clothes had been 
gambled away by the criminals and he was left only par- 
tially covered by a filthy rag. But the calm and venerable 
appearance of V. was so imposing that it impressed even 
the ruffians. His cleverness and tact did the rest. As soon as 
he was led into the cell he voluntarily handed over to the 
foreman everything he had with him in prison except his 
clothes, and declared at once that he would turn over his 
food parcels for general distribution. The foreman of the 
cell, with his usual authority, took him under his own pro- 
tection and ordered that he should not be harmed. Imagine 
the surprise of the examining officer when the next day he 
discovered that V. had not been mistreated in any way. 
And although he tried to instigate violence by summoning 
the foreman to tell him that V. had complained of being 
robbed, the foreman quickly saw through the trick and on 
his return to the cell told V. about it. 

This incident only strengthened the good-will of the 
criminals toward V. Flouting the prison rules they would 
see that V. got out into the yard for exercise, guarding him 


closely as they went and pretending that they were drag- 
ging him out by force. A curious picture he presented, this 
dignified gentleman with a magnificent gray beard and 
spectacles, walking in the yard surrounded by a crowd of 
bedraggled thieves, three of whom were entirely naked. It 
was not long before the examining officer, seeing that he 
had not succeeded in subduing V., transferred him back to 
a general cell. 

A different type of pressure was exerted upon a man by 
the name of B. arrested in connection with the " Academic 
Case." J For a year he was kept in isolation without exer- 
cise, food parcels or reading matter. Finally he was given 
an ultimatum to sign the " confession " or be shot within 
three days. He did not sign. In the evening he was called out 
with his " things " and transferred to the death cell where 
for two days he could listen, day and night, to the groans 
and screams of those being dragged to execution. At last he 
was taken under heavy guard into the cellar where, ac- 
cording to rumor, the executions took place. Every mo- 
ment he expected to be shot in the back, but no from 
there he was led up a dark flight of stairs and ushered into 
a brightly lit room where two examining officers were 
seated. Then he lost consciousness and could not be ques- 

After this harrowing experience he was transferred to a 
double cell and given a madman for a companion. This 
man would throw himself on B. and beat and choke him. 
Scratched and bruised, and with torn clothing, he was 
again brought before the examining officer in whose office 
he found his wife who had also been summoned for ques- 
tioning. Then, seeing the strong impression this meeting 
produced upon both of them, the examiner addressed him- 
self to B. with pathetic words: 

i See Appendix, page 359. 


" Pity your wife! Save yourself! Sign the confession! I 
offer it to you for the last time, otherwise you will be shot." 

B. again had the courage to refuse to give false testimony 
and was sent to the concentration camp. Had he submitted 
to the advice of the examining officer, undoubtedly he 
would have been shot. 

The " wet cell " was another means of coercion. Here the 
floor was flooded with water and the only furniture was a 
very narrow plank on which one could sit but not lie down. 
There were no sanitary conveniences and the prisoners 
were not allowed to leave the cell for any reason. Their 
feet had to remain in the filthy, putrid water filled with 
ordure; this developed ulcers. I knew of one prisoner who 
after six days in this " wet cell " finally signed a false con- 
fession. But he left behind him another prisoner who had 
been there for over thirty days and still refused to sign a 
false statement. 

These cases are but an insignificant part of what I saw 
and heard of the methods of the GPU, just a few examples 
showing the conditions under which the Russian intel- 
lectuals suffered imprisonment. 

Instead of subjecting me to any of the above violent 
methods, the examining officer got into the habit of send- 
ing for me once every week or ten days and keeping me in 
his office for four or five hours. Each time he would urge 
me to confess or would threaten me with death, but with 
decreasing insistence. He would often ask my opinion on 
some " technical detail," as he called it, for instance, the 
practicability of manufacturing " fish flour " from fish 
waste. He would lazily look over a newspaper, while I 
talked, intentionally complicating my narrative with mi- 
nute details which I felt sure he did not understand. Now 


and then his eyes would close, but if I stopped talking, he 
was wide awake. 

" Well, go on! " 

Watching him carefully I gradually began to change the 
subject describing some unusual characteristics of the 
various kinds of fishes in the Barents Sea. The effect was 

" A perch at a depth of 300 meters! That's wonderful! 
What kind of perch is it? " 

I would explain to him that it is a deep-water fish, of a 
fiery red color, with enormous black eyes and sharp spikes 
and that it is viviparous that made a great impression 
on him and the subject of the cross-examination shifted to 
the question of viviparous fish! 

He listened with apparent interest to stories about sea- 
wolves, and toothed whales that swallowed seals, and killer- 
whales that chase a Greenland whale onto a shallow bank 
to devour it. Such conversations convinced me that Barish- 
nikoff was a typical Soviet state functionary, unquestion- 
ably lazy, who went to the Shpalerka for the same reason 
that all Communists go to their offices; in order that the 
number of hours they " worked " might be registered. 

I decided to take the offensive. Choosing an opportune 
moment during our conversation on a subject entirely for- 
eign to the cross-examination, I addressed him unexpect- 
edly in a calm and casual manner: 

" May I ask you a frank question? " 

He nodded. 

" Why are you keeping me here? You know very well 
that I am not a wrecker, that I have committed no crime. 
I have the impression that you want at any cost to establish 
a crime where you know well there is none." 

At first he appeared taken aback and then began claim- 
ing that the GPU never arrests and imprisons anyone with- 


out cause; if I had been arrested, there must be a reason 
for it. 

I shrugged my shoulders. The old story was beginning 
all over again. He resumed his aggressive tone and con- 

" What do you think, that we decided to expose an ' or- 
ganization ' in your Trust and that I simply picked from the 
list of employees those names which seemed best to fit into 
the picture? That I came across your name a nobleman 
and a scientist found it to be well fitted and so got hold 
of you? " 

" Yes, I believe that's the way it was done," I replied, 
trying to speak calmly and without irritation. 

" No, it was not done that way. We have strong evidence 
against you. You are a wrecker. At Murmansk, during the 
general meeting at the time of the execution of the ' 48,' 
the question was raised as to why you hadn't been arrested. 
This shows that your wrecking activity was no secret to the 

I smiled and thought to myself: " What strong evi- 
dence! " 

He noticed my smile and hesitated, knowing as well as I 
how general meetings were conducted. 

" Possibly you engaged in wrecking activity not out of 
desire of personal gain, but entirely out of class hatred. 
I'm becoming convinced that this was the case. To some 
extent this lightens the gravity of your position," he said 
trying to gain a new foothold. 

" Class hatred? Where did you get this from? " 

" I sincerely advise you to confess," he repeated, finding 
no suitable reply. " It will save you. Then, when submit- 
ting your case to the council, I will ask for leniency in the 

" Confess what? You know yourself that I've done noth- 
ing criminal. Here you have been questioning me for the 


last two months tell me of what my ' wrecking activity ' 
consisted? " 

" You knew of the ' wrecking activity ' of Tolstoy and 


" But you know they have been shot at wreckers. Work- 
ing with them you could not have failed to know of their 
' wrecking/ " 

" I knew their work. I know that all the success of the 
trawling business is due to the knowledge and energy of 

" Don't forget that wreckers are cunning," interrupted 
the examining officer. " Keeping up the outward appear- 
ance of excellent work, they know how to ruin it from the 
inside. Confess that you knew of the ' wrecking activity ' 
of Tolstoy and Scherbakoff and I will accuse you only of 
failing to report. This would come under another Article 
and would get you the minimum punishment. This is the 
most 1 can do for you." 

From then on my " case " was narrowed down to a per- 
sistent attempt to obtain confirmation of the wrecking 
activities of those executed in the autumn of 1930. At first 
it was not quite clear to me. Evidently they had been mur- 
dered not only without being convicted of a definite crime, 
but also without the observance of those minimum re- 
quirements needed by the GPU to " prove " their " guilt." 
I found out later that this was so. It was not until the win- 
ter of 1930-1931 that the GPU actually attempted to col- 
lect "proofs" against the "48" who had already been 

A few days later the examining officer informed me of 
the official accusation against me. He was evidently afraid 
to continue our previous conversation, fearing that it 
might lead to a final loss of his prestige. I was being ac- 
cused according to Article 58, Paragraph 7 of eco- 


nomic counter-revolution, that is " wrecking." The punish- 
ment for this crime is from three years of forced labor to 
the death penalty with confiscation of property. 

The examining officer wrote out the accusation act in my 
presence on a special form. Its formulation was poorly 
made and, to me, incomprehensible. It was one long sen- 
tence containing numerous incidental propositions oddly 
separated by commas. Its meaning was approximately as 
follows: I was accused of engaging in wrecking activity 
from 1925 to the day of my arrest and, concretely, my 
wrecking consisted of " promoting the rise of prices of 
materials and production equipment." 

" Sign to the effect that the accusation has been read to 
you," said the examining officer. 

" But I don't even understand the accusation," I ob- 
jected. " How was it possible for me to promote the raising 
of prices of materials and production equipment? " 

" Whether you understand it or not isn't important. 
Simply sign that you have read the accusation. I don't ask 
that you agree with it," he grumbled. And I signed. 

After that I was not called out for questioning for a 
whole month and was even allowed to work in the prison 
library, delivering books to the cells. Life became easier. 
I had seven companions working there with me and, best 
of all, I was allowed to read in its spacious room. I still 
lived in the same cell, but I left early in the morning and 
returned to it only just before roll-call at night. 

It was a mystery to me why my case had dragged on for 
so long. I was not called out for cross-examination any 
more. Maybe my " case " was completed and I would soon 
receive my verdict from the " cuckoo." Perhaps I would 
even be released. 

Meanwhile I had become an " old-timer " with the cell 
privileges that accompany this status, and I knew the mi- 


nutest details of prison regulations. I had gathered to- 
gether a prisoner's kit of forbidden, but extremely useful, 
articles: a needle which was a gift from a fellow-prisoner 
who had been deported; a piece of string which I picked up 
in the prison yard and which served to hold up my trousers; 
two large nails which I flattened into a knife and a chisel; 
a pipe which I made from specially processed bread and a 
game of chess of the same material. I became used to long 
hair and learned the trick of shaving with a piece of tin or 
broken glass. 

The acute nervous tension and excitement of the first 
clays of imprisonment subsided. Routine, weariness and op- 
pressive sadness took their place. The third month passed, 
the fourth began, but no change came. It was as if time had 
stopped on one dreadful day. 



BEFORE my imprisonment I had been certain that the 
alleged " voluntary confessions " of scientists and special- 
ists were faked and the records falsified. I could understand 
that there might be people of weak will-power who under 
torture or the threat of death would write any kind of con- 
fession; but that men of strong character and unquestion- 
able honesty, like the " 48," could do such a thing seemed 
incredible to me. I was, therefore, surprised to learn how 
many prisoners do write false confessions and denuncia- 
tions. There is no doubt that the GPU does not stop at 
falsification of signatures, or the addition of words which 
completely change the meaning of a statement, or even the 
drawing up of entirely false records of investigations, but, 
hard as it is to admit, there are also people who write 
shameful calumny against themselves. Only those who 
have been in the clutches of the GPU can understand how, 
under the pressure of examining officers, repulsive " con- 
fessions " of participation in counter-revolution, espionage 
and " wrecking " are written, which condemn not only 
their authors but many other innocent people as well. 

Such " confessions," however, are of such usual occur- 
rence that there exists a special term for them in the prison 
slang. They are called " novels " and those who write them 
" novelists." As a matter of fact this forms the basis for 
dividing all prisoners into two categories: those " confess- 


ing " and those " refusing to confess." I belonged to the 
latter group and deeply sympathized with my comrades, 
but the psychology of those who did " confess " was of vital 
interest to all of us. Finding out what were the forces 
which compelled them to capitulate to the examining of- 
ficer, to accept the guilt of a base crime, to become betray- 
ers of their relatives, friends and fellow-workers, meant 
delving into the very depths of prison misery. We, the 
" unyielding," had one consolation left our honor; they, 
on the other hand, had lost even that. 

After a closer study of these individuals I came to the 
conclusion that they had become " novelists " from various 
motives, but the thing which struck me most was the fact 
that there were some who " confessed " consciously for 
practical purposes. These were men of mature age, the 
majority of whom had formerly held positions of social and 
official importance. This group consisted almost entirely 
of engineers, well-known specialists and some professors 
and scientists. Many were men of wide practical experience, 
strong character and high ethical standards. Before the 
Revolution many of them had been men of irreproachable 
integrity, and now they openly told of giving false testi- 
mony and denouncing their friends and associates, arguing 
that to have done otherwise would have been impossible 
and unwise. Some of them even looked down upon the 
" unyielding " and brazenly urged them also to " confess." 
But there were others who talked about it with repulsion 
and horror, endeavoring by means of words to alleviate 
their consciences. 

At the Shpalerka, as an example to those refusing to 
" confess," a special cell, No. 23, had been set aside. It was 
occupied by nine important engineers who had "con- 
fessed." There were ten cots in the cell; in the middle 
stood a big table over which hung a bright lamp with a 
shade and each prisoner had a stool. They were taken 


separately to the bathhouse and given better food. We saw 
their cell when passing along the corridor and met these 
engineers at exercise in the yard. 

I recall one of these men with whom I argued the subject 
of "confessions," but to no avail. 

" No, my friend," he continued, " we have become ac- 
customed to make deals with our conscience, we have be- 
come hardened to the fact that without lying one can't 
live through a single day in Sovietland, and we have long 
ago lost all our principles. Why then now, when the threat 
of an infamous death hangs over us and our families are 
threatened with poverty, hunger and even deportation, 
should we not do everything possible to alleviate our fate? 
The GPU demands that we confess to wrecking and espio- 
nage all right, we are wreckers and spies. They demand 
denunciation of our friends all right, we'll denounce 
them. If I don't, somebody else will. We cooperated with 
the Soviet Government when it required that we formulate 
and approve absurd plans which ruined the industry and 
impoverished the people, and now again we cooperate 
with it when our ' confessions ' of wrecking are needed to 
cover the shame of its failures. In both cases we are risking 
our lives for the sole purpose of putting off the inevitable 
and of saving, for a time at least, the lives of our relatives 
and ourselves." 

" No," I argued, " you are wrong. I have always fought 
my utmost against plans I knew to be unfulfillable. Here 
in prison, having lost everything, I am still able to say that 
I did no harm by my work, even that perhaps in peace time 
I would not have worked with so much zeal nor served my 
country more diligently. No, I shall never denounce myself 
or anybody else." 

" But what will you gain by your stubbornness? You will 
get into open conflict with the examining officer and his 
report to the Council will be unfavorable to you. The GPU 


Council will also be ' sore ' at you because the GPU must 
necessarily disclose plots in order to justify its enormous 
appropriations and expanded staffs and that means you 
can't expect mercy from them. I am not forgetting, either, 
that the Soviet Government needs our ' confessions ' 
with which to explain why our country is suffering poverty 
and famine instead of the promised well-being and pros- 
perity. With matters as they are, you'll get the heaviest 
punishment and probably be shot. They don't need your 
' confession ' in order to convict you. Don't forget that there 
is no trial, you will not see the council, the examining of- 
ficer can forge your signature or even force others to give 
incriminating evidence against you." 

" Let him do what he likes! I will not assist him in this 
dirty work." 

" This may be very honorable, but in our times par- 
don me it's ridiculous! Our times are times of realistic 
politics and not of knighthood or quixotism." 

" And are you sure that your confession will save you? " 
I asked. " Remember the case of the ' 48 '; they ' confessed ' 
and the next day the GPU announced the executions. You 
see, the GPU has its own peculiar kind of logic." 

" Even so we do gain by confessing. First of all, our 
relatives are not imprisoned as a means of forcing us to 
be more compliant. Then, we ourselves avoid torture and 
other means of coercion. The prison regime is made lighter 
for us and therefore we have more chance of leaving the 
prison without entirely ruining our health." 

One of the younger men in prison, a radical who openly 
sympathized with the Bolsheviks, broke in on the conversa- 
tion. He, too, was being accused of " wrecking." 

" But it's terrible to realize what harm you cause by 
your false confessions. Put yourself in the position of the 
examining officer to whom you've confessed and the GPU 
Council that reads your * novels.' You're forcing them to 


believe in wrecking which does not exist, to search for it 
and ultimately destroy us who are indispensable to the 

" Oh no! They're not as naive as all that. My examining 
officer knows very well that I've never wrecked and that in 
general we never had any wrecking activity at our factory. 
It's all their own invention anyway. How much my examin- 
ing officer believes in wrecking activities can be seen from 
the following incident. He forced me to sign a deposition 
that I had engaged in wrecking and that I received money 
for it from abroad. Then he said, ' Write how much.' How 
much? The devil only knew! All the money I saw was what 
I was given by the factory. I thought for a long time and 
figured out how much might be required to bribe an engi- 
neer of my position who received, as I did, one thousand 
roubles a month. Finally I wrote down that I had received 
during the five years 200,000 roubles. ' What are you writ- 
ing? ' he cried. ' What do you mean by 200,000? What idiot 
would give you that? Cross out one zero, make it 20,000. 
No, even that's too much! You'll have to write the whole 
statement over. Say that you received 10,000 roubles.' ' But 
* I replied, ' that makes only 2,000 a year. And what 
person would believe that I had taken this risk for only 
2,ooo roubles? Why, by consultations or prospecting work 
I could have earned more than that at any moment, but I 
didn't take advantage of this opportunity for fear of being 
accused of grabbing too much work for myself.' ' Don't 
argue, write down 10,000 roubles.' What could I do? I 
wrote it down. And you insist that I should have risked 
getting a bullet in my head to avoid tempting this scoun- 
drel to believe in the existence of wrecking activity! " 

The subject of " confessions " was discussed a great deal 
in prison because it represented both the basic point in 
all our " cases " and the " work " of our examining officers. 


It was very hard to control one's indignation against those 
who were " novelists " from principle. As for those who 
had surrendered to the examining officers because of direct 
torture or even the fear of it, they presented an extremely 
pathetic picture: men of weak will and confused old men 
complete moral wrecks. 

In the winter of 1930 an old man, Professor Z., was trans- 
ferred to a common cell after half a year of solitary confine- 
ment. I saw him when he was taken out into the yard for 
exercise for the first time. He was completely broken, his 
back was bent and he moved about with the greatest diffi- 
culty. There had been rumors that he had denounced a 
large number of people, and the minute he entered the 
yard prisoners rushed to him from all sides. 

" I'm sorry, friends, sorry! " he was saying in a trembling 
voice. " Yes, I have denounced you. Yes you, too. And 
you. . . . And him. I couldn't hold out. They forced me 
to do it. I'm old I couldn't hold out. I also have been de- 
nounced. Do you know Professor N.? It was he who de- 
nounced me. They arranged a meeting and he shamelessly 
denounced me to my face. What could I do? " 

" Professor," said one of them with indignation, " you 
didn't know me at all, you had no connection with my 
work, you scarcely knew me; why did you bring false accu- 
sation against me? " 

" And what have you written about me? " interrupted 
another excitedly. 

" I don't remember, friend. I forget. . . ." 

" Old ass! " said somebody. " He already has one foot in 
the grave, and in order to get a sentence of ten years in 
concentration camp, which he will never outlive, he not 
only sells his good name, but ruins everyone whose name 
he remembers. What a despicable coward! " 

Meanwhile the old man was telling of some of the testi- 
mony he had given against them. It was a painful scene. 


Here was a formerly respected professor ending his long 
life in infamy. 

Many of the " novelists " made attempts to conceal their 
" confessions," but it was almost impossible. The examin- 
ing officer does not make a secret of such " confessions," 
but uses them as a means to coerce others. So many people 
are involved in each " case " that the news spreads rapidly 
and widely, is long remembered and follows the " con- 
fessors " even into exile. The attitude of the other prison- 
ers toward these men is not one of outward hostility but 
rather of distrust. It is at the hands of the examining of- 
ficers that they get the worst treatment. Having squeezed 
from the " novelists " all the testimony they need, these 
GPU officials invariably drastically change their attitude 
toward them and begin to ill-treat them. More than once 
I have heard examining officers shouting: " Intellectual 
scum! Just scare them a little and they crawl on their bel- 
lies denouncing everyone! " 

After the " confession " had been made and the useful- 
ness of the " novelist " exhausted, he lost most of his privi- 
leges and advantages. We were, there in the prison, pri- 
marily interested to learn if " novel writing " really 
brought a lighter sentence, as promised by the examining 
officer and as often believed " outside." In our time prison 
practice did not confirm this. I know of cases where those 
who had " confessed " were shot, while those whom they 
had falsely denounced and who had remained firm 
were sent to concentration camps. 

Reviewing the GPU " cases " which I encountered in 
prison, I came to the conclusion that " confessing " gave 
the prisoners no advantage either during the investigation 
or later and that their subsequent loss of self-respect must, 
in the majority of cases, have caused great mental torture. 
I feel very sure that there were only a few who " confessed " 
for pure gain. It is only the man himself who, knowing the 


horrors which the examining officer devised for him, can 
judge his own case. How can one accuse Professor T. of 
weakness, when he surrendered only after being shown, 
through the porthole of the hot cell, his wife and daughter 
gasping for breath, lying on the floor and striving to get 
air by pressing their mouths against the crack under the 
iron door? What one of us could be sure of having the 
strength of A- B. Ezerski, executed in connection with 
the case of the " 48," who was carried out on a stretcher 
after two cross-examinations lasting 100 hours each still 
refusing to sign the lie which they tried to make him en- 



N January, 1931, a noticeable activity pervaded the 
administration of the Shpalernaya prison as if an inspec- 
tion was imminent. Cells were being emptied; prisoners in 
batches of 20 or 30 men at a time from the whole corridor 
were being called out "with things" and were evidently 
being transferred to other prisons. Common cells became 
less crowded: only Go or 70 men were left in our cell. Cell 
No. 19 was completely emptied and transformed into a 
" distributing cell "; all the newly arrested were placed in 
it and, before being transferred to common cells, were 
taken to the bathhouse. Prisoners who did not get remit- 
tances from home were given prison underwear. The dis- 
gusting mattresses stuffed with straw dust were replaced by 
others filled with fresh straw. All this excited the prisoners 
and rumors spread that a delegation of foreigners was going 
to visit our prison. This surmise changed into assurance 
when a painter, also one of the prisoners, made his appear- 
ance and filled all the cracks in the walls with plaster, im- 
muring thousands of bed bugs. On January 24th, when 
everything seemed to have been completed, the prison 
was inspected by the representative of the GPU, Medved 
" himself," with a whole retinue of attendants. In spite of 
our isolation, rumors spread very quickly in prison and 
the same day everybody knew that Medved had been dis- 
satisfied, had found the cells too crowded, the place not 


ready for demonstration and had ordered that the prison 
be immediately tomorrow " cleaned out," that is, 
that we be transferred to another prison. Alarm was gen- 
eral. However bad it was at the Shpalerka no one wished 
to be transferred to another prison where conditions might 
be still worse. 

No one believed that all these improvements could mean 
a change in the prison regime in general. We had already 
experienced something of this kind, but to a lesser degree, 
in November 1930, when the prison was threatened with 
an epidemic of typhus. In our crowded condition, infested 
by lice, a single case of typhus would have necessarily de- 
veloped into an epidemic which could have easily spread 
to the city. Then, for the first time, we were given a chance 
to wash ourselves properly in the bathhouse. Usually we 
were allowed only 15 minutes for washing in the bathhouse, 
less the time spent to reach it and to undress; a group of 
20-35 prisoners were crowded in a room meant for 20. 
No hot water was available; soap was not supplied. Only 
the most aggressive minority succeeded in washing them- 
selves after a fashion, but even they did not get rid of lice. 
One of the causes for the spread of these vermin was the 
" disinfecting " process, which meant that all the under- 
wear and clothing of those washing in the bathhouse was 
stuffed into two enormous bags which were then slightly 
heated by steam. Ten minutes later the bags were brought 
back and their contents emptied onto the dirty floor of 
the dressing room. Perhaps part of the clothing nearer to 
the sides of the bag got warm, but in the middle every- 
thing remained cold and the disturbed lice ran actively 
over all the clothes. 

We did not doubt that the lice regime was one of the 
means of coercion for we were well acquainted with the fa- 
vorite threats of examining officers: " I'll rot you in the 
lice cell! " " After a year of feeding lice you'll confessl " 


A man who is dirty and infested with lice loses his self- 
respect and offers less resistance to the threats of the exam- 
ining officer. 

The only real way of fighting lice in prison was to hunt 
for them, and every day we engaged in this occupation 
while the light was sufficient near the windows. Moscow 
residents, who came to us from the Butyrki prison told us 
that the prisoners there had established a daily " hour of 
fighting lice." But there were always people who had be- 
come indifferent to everything and who could not be forced 
to give time regularly to this task. 

In November, with only the very slightest help from the 
prison administration, we succeeded in overcoming the 
lice, but as soon as the threat of the typhus epidemic lifted, 
we were again returned to the old regime. 

Besides lice, the GPU had another ally which was still 
more effective scurvy. The special prison diet, the for- 
bidding of fruit and vegetables in prison remittances and 
the lack of fresh air, led to almost general sickness. Com- 
paratively young men lost their teeth and nearly everybody 
suffered from bleeding gums or sore joints, especially in 
the legs. It is a known fact that the typical symptoms of 
scurvy are lack of energy, apathy, depression. This was 
widely made use of by examining officers and in January, 
having temporarily destroyed bed bugs and lice, they con- 
tinued to permit scurvy, furunculosis, anaemia and tuber- 
culosis to flourish. 

I have not mentioned the wide spread of nervous and 
mental diseases. After half a year of solitary confinement 
almost everyone begins to suffer from hallucinations; many 
lose their minds completely and become violently insane. 

Cases of sudden insanity often occur at the moment when 
the prisoner after a long spell of solitary confinement is 
placed in a common cell and is unable to withstand the 
shock of transition to the crowd and noise. At night we 


would often hear heartrending screams. The whole prison 
would become silent and listen in suspense trying to make 
out whether someone was being tortured, dragged to exe- 
cution or had become insane. Some of the prisoners could 
not bear it and would call the warden on duty. If he hap- 
pened to be a good man, he would honestly reassure them. 

"But no, this is not in the examining officer's office. 
Don't you hear, the screams come from upstairs. It's 
just somebody gone crazy. He'll soon be taken away." 

This was the life at " Shpalerka," and nevertheless we 
dreaded the prospect of a change to another prison. 



N the morning of January 25, 1931, we learned that 
five hundred men were to be transferred to the " Kresti " 
prison. General commotion followed. Many, especially 
old-timers, were very distressed tor with the transfer they 
would lose all their privileges. We were all grieved at the 
thought of losing our small but valued possessions such as 
needles, pieces of string and home-made knives, which 
would most certainly be taken from us in the search which 
always accompanies such a transfer. 

The disturbance and confusion created by the adminis- 
tration's demand of immediate execution of orders were 
exceedingly depressing. For hours we were kept standing 
in the cell awaiting the humiliating procedure of being 
searched; for hours we were checked, our names entered 
into lists, counted and recounted; for hours we were kept 
waiting for the " black crow " which, filled to the utmost, 
transported us in groups to the other side of the Neva to 
Kresti. Those who were awaiting transportation and had 
already been searched, counted and registered were 
guarded not by the prison guard, whose number had 
proved insufficient, but by ordinary soldiers of the GPU. 
They looked at us with curiosity and entered cautiously 
into conversation. 

" What are you imprisoned for, Comrade? " 

" Who knows, I don't know myself," was the usual reply. 


" That's it, all are like that. Why do they keep people 
like you in prison? Thieves are free to infest the streets, 
but good people are kept in prisons." 

" Not so loud," another soldier warned him, "don't you 
see the spy? " and he nodded towards the approaching 
prison warden. 

At last came my turn. We were pushed into a closed 
wagon, packed so tightly that the last ones had to be pressed 
in with the closing door. We were rushed away, the em- 
bankment of the Neva whisked by the little window; then 
came a sharp turn and we entered the prison yard. 

Before the Revolution the cells of Kresti had been 
equipped for one inmate: a folding cot, a table, a chair, 
a cupboard for food utensils and clothes, a washstand and 
a toilet in the form of a wooden box with a cover and a 
pail inside. After the Revolution all this equipment had 
been broken and destroyed. In place of the cot were rough 
boards on low trestles, in place of the toilet a dented, un- 
believably dirty, rusty pail with no cover whatever. This 
pail could be carried out for emptying only twice a day; 
one can imagine the stench that permeated the cell. More- 
over, in accordance with the Soviet principle of crowding 
people together, at least five men were placed in each cell 
two of them could sleep on the rough boards and the 
others on the floor. Six men were placed in many of the 
cells and in some even ten. With only five prisoners in our 
cell there was not room to walk around, and the only exer- 
cise we had was when we were led out for our one minute 
washing in the lavatory at the end of the corridor and 
during the fifteen minutes' exercise in the prison yard. 

Besides all these hardships, we were confronted with 
intense cold and terrible dampness. Water literally ran 
down the walls in spite of our continually wiping them, 
the floors were wet all the time and the window panes 
covered with a thick coating of frost. 


My cell-mates turned out to be new ones to me and pre- 
sented a rather varied assortment. The senior by position 
and respect was a Professor E. whom I had known previ- 
ously from his scientific works. He had been in prison for 
two years and was accused of counter-revolution. For the 
last three months he had not been taken to cross-examina- 
tions and he was expecting to receive his verdict at any 
time. Then there was an artillery officer of the old army 
who had been in prison for a long time. The Tartar who 
was with us had been arrested recently; formerly the head 
janitor of a big apartment house, he was being held in con- 
nection with the case of the Moslem priest Bigeeff, who 
had escaped abroad. Many Tartars had been arrested in 
connection with this case. The other member of our group 
was an old jeweler, an employee of the state jewelry store. 
He had been in prison four months and was the only one 
of us who did not know of what he was being accused; up 
to that time he had not yet been taken to a single cross- 

In spite of the diversity of our professions we all very 
quickly became friends, a matter of great importance be- 
cause our quarters here were perhaps more crowded than 
at the Shpalerka. We began by strictly regulating our day. 

In the morning before " tea " we had gymnastics under 
my direction. And before exercise time in the yard Profes- 
sor E. and I gave something like popular lectures. After 
dinner everyone kept quiet, busying himself with his own 
affairs. Professor E. usually formulated chess problems or 
made some small article for our comfort a shade for the 
lamp, a cover for the toilet pail or small shelves. Tools and 
materials lost during the transfer were again being picked 
up and utilized with an ingenuity of which only a prisoner 
is capable. For a long time I occupied myself with model- 
ling chessmen, pipes and cigarette holders out of bread 
which was previously subjected to a special treatment. All 


this was, of course, done in secret because the tools pieces 
of tin, glass, wire and the like and the materials which 
we used, except for the bread, were being obtained in vio- 
lation of prison regulations. Usually we picked up all our 
treasures in the yard during exercise or when we were be- 
ing led to the bathhouse. I have to admit that prison bore- 
dom made us so proficient in this respect that once I even 
succeeded in stealing from the yard a whole log of wood 
which became for us a source of endless handicrafts. 

In the evening we told each other stories, mostly personal 
experiences, so that we would not discuss " cases " or dwell 
on prison actualities. 

In spite of our miserable existence, the extremely 
crowded conditions, putrid air, darkness and dampness, 
I felt that I was resting and that my nerves were becoming 
calmed. The organization and the friendly atmosphere in 
our cell had a restful influence after the chaos and noise of 
the common cell at Shpalerka. The examining officer 
seemed to have forgotten me completely. Somehow I could 
not bring myself to believe that I might suddenly be taken 
to execution or be deported. And what if they released me? 
What if I were to return home and see my family again? 
Would I work again under the constant threat of new 
imprisonment? Work, and take the place of my executed 
comrades? Never! In the " freedom " of my native land 
there was no place for me. 



HE first night we kept awake for a long time. The 
light was out, but our Tartar continued to tell his stories 
in a low voice and we were following with interest his 
narrative of how people used to live. Suddenly we heard 
footsteps, then the clinking of keys. The light was turned 
on and a voice called out: 

" Name? " the guard pointed his finger at each of us 
in turn. He came to me and I replied. " Initials? " " V. V.," 
I said. 

" Initials in full! " he growled threateningly. 

" What do you mean, first name and father's name? " 

" Of course! " he snapped. I told him. 

" Get going, quickly! " 

I began to dress. My cell-mates were looking at me with 
compassion and concern. 

" Shall I put on my overcoat? " I asked. " Nothing has 
been said about it," he answered, " it means without over- 

I went out and followed him; we descended steep iron 
stairs to a lower corridor where he stopped me and left me 
shivering in the gloomy silence of the prison night. When 
I had become thoroughly chilled he returned and growled, 
" Get going! " 

I entered an office. Facing me was a new examining of- 
ficer, his face cold and repulsive. He was a young man of 
slight build and dark complexion, with a narrow forehead 


and small cruel eyes. There was a general's insignia on the 
coat of his military uniform. My former examining officer 
had been a colonel. Evidently this one was the chief. 

" Sit down," he said glumly. " What were you questioned 
about at your last cross-examination? " 

" About the possibility of utilizing the fish waste from the 
Murman Coast." It was the first thing that came to my 

" Tell about it," he said in an ominous voice. 

I began speaking slowly in order to collect my thoughts. 
It was very cold in the office; the examining officer had on 
a heavy top coat. I could not help shivering and this dis- 
tracted my thoughts. It was stupid of me this scoundrel 
might think I was shaking with fright. He gazed at me 
piercingly annoyingly but did not say a word. 

Suddenly he interrupted me sharply: " Enough! Stop 
stuffing our heads with your stupid technicalities. Remem- 
ber, this is no trial. The Comrade who conducted your case 
came to the conclusion that you ought to be shot. I agree 
with him. You ought to be shot! " He was not speaking but 
shouting angrily and wildly. 

" Well, what's the matter shoot! " I replied, control- 
ling my anger with difficulty. 

" M. and T. visited you at your home! " he said, naming 
two women of my acquaintance. " Yes," I replied. 

" They are prostitutes! " he shouted at the top of his 

" No, one is the wife of a professor and the other of an 
engineer. You know it." 

He jumped from his chair and began pacing up and 
down the room, and for some reason of his own he con- 
tinued shouting loudly. "The cross-examination is go- 
ing forward in enormous strides! " 

I burst out laughing. As I was trembling all over with 
anger the laugh came out loud and insolent. 


" What are you laughing at? " he cut in. 

" It's funny and that's why I'm laughing," I replied pro- 

It would be hard to reproduce the content of the subse- 
quent cross-examination. He shouted at me and I at him. 
The door of the office would not stay shut and every other 
minute he would run to it and slam it closed, but it would 
open again and our voices resounded throughout the entire 
prison building. Doubtless the whole prison was listening 
to us with apprehension. He threatened me with execution, 
shouted fantastic abominations about my life and repeat- 
edly accused me of having received money from abroad. 
I was so overcome with anger that I scarcely knew what I 
answered. His insolent manner, his face and his voice, all 
were driving me wild. " I must not hit him," was the only 
thought that remained clear in my mind. We stood facing 
each other our fists clenched. 

" Who is the examining officer, I or you? " he shrieked. 

" You are! Do you think I would engage in such work? " 
I shouted in reply. 

" We'll shoot you! And there won't be any less fish in 
the sea for it," he yelled. " We've shot Tolstoy, we've shot 
Scherbakoff and there's no less fish in the sea. And we'll 
shoot you too! " 

" Good! Shoot everybody, there'll be more fish in the sea 
when there's no one left to catch it." 

"Wrecker! Tolstoy testified that you were a wrecker." 

" Lies! " 

" You say the GPU lies? " he shouted threateningly. 

" Lies! Lies! " I screamed, completely losing control of 

" Get out of here! Go to hell! " 

I rushed out of the office and bumped into the guard, 
who because of the shouting had stationed himself at the 
door ready to spring to the assistance of his chief. 


The examining officer rushed out after me. " Where 
are you going? " he shouted. 

" To helll " I shrieked. 

" Only death will correct you! " he snarled angrily, and 
addressing the terrified guard, " Take him to his cell." 

I ran up to the fourth floor several steps at a time, stamp- 
ing on the iron stairs, paying no attention to the guard 
who could barely keep up with me. He made no attempt 
to stop me, and in my excitement I ran up the wrong 
stairs and could not find my cell. This cooled me off; I 
controlled myself and let the guard find it for me. 

Nobody was asleep in our cell, arid as soon as the warden 
had locked me in everybody began questioning me anx- 
iously as to what all the shouting had been about. 

My anger had subsided. I saw all the absurdity of the 
scene and hilariously began to describe it. 

" Does it pay to behave like that? " asked Professor E. 
" One should control himself. You shouldn't act that 
way with them. You'll only make a worse enemy out of 

" But, my friend, what can I do if I have such a stupid 
temper? God be praised that I didn't hit him in the face. 
At any rate, he didn't succeed in frightening me." 

E. was much concerned about me. He, himself, was an 
admirable example of self-control and his attitude towards 
the guards and prison administration most exceptional. 
His large, heavy figure, his serious yet kindly face, his self- 
confidence and long-standing habit of authority all these 
presented such a complete picture of dignity that even the 
jailers felt uncomfortable in his presence. I greatly envied 
him that self-control and dignified bearing, but for me it 
was unattainable. 

Then he related in his interesting manner the story of 
his first cross-examination at the Shpalerka. The examin- 
ing officer had asked him how old he was. He had replied 


with perfect politeness and immediately added: " and how 
old are you? " 

The examining officer became confused. " And what 
has that to do with the case? " he asked. 

" Nothing, of course. I just asked out of curiosity. If 
you find my question out of place, please don't answer/' 

"Well, twenty-five/' modestly replied the officer. 

" Twenty-five," the professor sighed with sympathy. 
" How young you are! You weren't even born when I was 
imprisoned in this very prison for opposing the Tzarist 
regime. You see how times change! " 

" Education? " drily interrupted the examining officer. 
The other replied and immediately asked: "And what is 
your education? " 

" I studied in the Pedagogical Institute, but I didn't 

" You see," mused E., " I gave a course there. If you had 
only stayed longer you would have listened to my lectures; 
you would have become a teacher. It's good, useful work. 
You didn't graduate and now you are working here. A 
pity! What a pity! " 


J.HE night following my rowdy encounter with the 
examining officer the old jeweler was summoned to his 
first cross-examination. He was gone for four days. After 
having sat in prison for four months he was so upset at 
being called out that he left behind his set of false teeth. 
He was unrecognizable when he returned on the night of 
the fourth day. As soon as he entered the cell he began to 
talk excitedly. He ravenously attacked the food we had 
saved for him, choked over the soup and bread, shook with 
laughter, stumbled over words, but still kept on trying to 
eat and talk at the same time. 

" What fun, what fun! I'll tell you all about it, but you 
won't believe it. You will never believe what I've been 
through. Fun. How smart they are they certainly 
know how to do it. They took me to the Gorokhovaya and 
put me in the ' lice ' cell. Yes, the ' lice ' cell. You know, 
you've heard of it the ' lice ' cell. What fun! " 

Then he choked over his soup and bread and began 
coughing violently. We admonished him to calm himself 
and rest, but he hadn't eaten for four days. He continued 
eating and chattering at the same time. 

" There are between two and three hundred people in 
the ' lice ' cell, men, women and some children all thrown 
in together. How hot it is! And how crowded, without 
room to sit or lie down. They shoved me in and there was 


only standing room. The crowd sways back and forth in- 
cessantly red faces and bulging eyes. It's fearful! But I 
found a friend in there who urged me to squeeze forward 
towards the grill. May God reward him my friend for 
telling me this, for showing me what to do; otherwise I 
would not be living now. Towards the end of the first night 
I lost consciousness. What happened and how I don't 
know. When I came to I was lying down. I had been hauled 
out into the corrfdor. If I hadn't been near the grill I would 
certainly have died. My head was resting on a woman a 
fat woman with large breasts who was also unconscious, 
and beyond her there was another woman. What fun! Oh, 
what fun! " 

He rocked with hysterical laughter, choking and cough- 
ing. We passed him his teeth so that he could eat more 

" Thank you, thank you! " he sputtered. " I'd quite for- 
gotten about my teeth, and I was wondering why I couldn't 
eat. That's fine. Thank you! " 

Although he was still trembling and laughing, his story 
soon became more comprehensible, and for the first time 
we were hearing directly from the lips of a witness a de- 
scription of perhaps the most vile method of torture used 
by the GPU the "lice," "crowded" or "foreign cur- 
rency " cell. Gradually out of his incoherent words and 
answers to our questions we were able to get quite a com- 
plete picture of the unbelievable way in which the GPU 
finances much of its work. 

According to him the " lice " cell at the Gorokhovaya is 
only about half the size of those crowded common cells 
of the Shpalernaya, but two to three hundred persons are 
jammed into it. There the people must stand pressed 
closely together. To add to the torture a high temperature 
is maintained in the cell. Everybody is covered with lice 
and fighting them is quite impossible. There is no toilet 


in the cell. The prisoners are taken out, three at a time, 
heavily guarded; men and women are taken together to 
the same toilet. This goes on continuously throughout 
the day and night. And every time even one person 
squeezes his way to the grill a general motion is started, 
resulting in a continuous swaying or rocking throughout 
the entire cell. 

No one may sit or lie down. From time to time a GPU 
official enters the cell and stands up on a stool in the middle 
of this exhausted mass of people. If he finds that any one 
of the prisoners is sitting he makes the entire cell do a 
squatting exercise lowering themselves slowly with 
bended knees and then slowly raising themselves up again 
time after time. This is such torture when everybody's legs 
are swollen from long standing that the prisoners them- 
selves watch over each other so that no one may slide down 
to the floor. 

The underwear of those who have been in the cell for 
several days becomes completely rotten and worn out and 
their entire bodies covered with lice bites and often a rash 
from nervous eczema. 

" Do they have anything to eat there? " we asked, horri- 
fied at this picture of torture. 

" Yes, yes! Each person gets 200 grams of bread and a 
mug of water a day. All drink water, but no one eats the 
bread it would stick in one's throat. What a farcel The 
whole cell can be seen from the corridor. People are taken 
to see it before examinations and later, on the threat of 
being thrown in there, give up all their money, jewels 
anything to save themselves from it. They are cunning, very 
cunning, those devils of the GPU." 

" But you, Ivan Ivanovitch, why didn't you immediately 
say that you'd give up everything? " 

" They didn't ask me to. That's just it they didn't ask 
for anything. They kept me here four months without say- 


ing a single word to me, you know that. For almost four 
days they kept me in the ' lice ' cell and I couldn't even 
speak to them about it. That's just one of their ways of 
terrifying people. Some are put in the cell and others are 
shown it from the corridor. The GPU knows how to 
frighten people, they're cunning! 

" It was not until the fourth day," he continued, " that 
forty of us were picked out and taken to another cell where 
we waited for one hour and then another. At last a young 
fellow came in; he was young and alert and explained 
everything so clearly that we understood what it was all 

" ' You are parasites,' he said, ' and enemies of the Soviet 
Government. You all ought to be executed without mercy, 
but the Soviet Government will be lenient towards you for 
a time. It will let you cut your own roots. The Government 
needs money for the Piatiletka, real money! Foreign cur- 
rency and gold coins will do, and those who haven't any 
can give gold articles and precious stones. The richer the 
Government is, the sooner will it be able to fulfill the 
Piatiletka and establish a classless society where there will 
be no room for parasites like you. In a word, you must give 
voluntarily to the Piatiletka that amount which will be 
assigned to each one of you. And those who refuse will be 
returned to the " lice " cell or sent to the " conveyor." And 
don't forget about the concentration camps.' Then after 
considerable swearing at us he sent us one by one to the 
examining officer. 

" This officer was, I'll have to admit, a clever guy very 
clever, and an expert in precious stones. When he told me 
that my contribution must be made with a certain value in 
precious stones, I agreed to it all. It meant I must give away 
all the jewels that I had collected in my fifty-five years of 
work. My only worry was that these might not be enough 
to cover the amount required from me. He told me to sign 
the agreement and I did. ' I will send you today to your 


apartment and you, yourself, can show us where these pre- 
cious stones are hidden. If there aren't enough to meet the 
amount you must contribute, we shall put you back into 
the " lice " cell.' 

" And everything happened as he had said. A man was 
appointed to go with me and we went in a street-car 
straight to my home." 

" You rode in a street-car and you've been home? " we 
asked in amazement. 

" Yes, we simply took a street-car and how strange it 
felt. I couldn't believe it was true, that I actually was out- 
side, riding on a car, that the people all around me were 
free. And I myself seemed free, but I knew that actually 
I was a prisoner. Oh Lord! Oh Lord! When my old woman 
answered the door-bell she almost fainted. But she imme- 
diately understood that something was wrong because I 
was with a stranger; she didn't know what to do. But my 
companion took me straight to the place where the stones 
were hidden. I took them out, counted them and entered 
them all on a slip of paper. Then he ordered me to get 
going back to the prison. But my old woman begged that 
she be allowed to give me some tea. And he was a good 
fellow and gave his consent. Well, you know, at home there 
is nothing to eat, but I had a glass of tea and changed to 
clean underwear. I cheered up the old woman as best I 
could, saying that everything was all right and I would 
soon be back home. She was crying. We are both old. And 
he, the Gepeist, was hurying me, saying, ' Let's go, old 
man, stop moping! ' 

" When we got back to the Gorokhovaya the same ex- 
amining officer looked over my stones and made an expert 
valuation. ' Good/ he said, ' everything is all right. This 
will be enough from you for now, old man. The day after 
tomorrow you will be free, and for some time we'll let 
you alone.' And here I am." 

" But Ivan Ivanovitch, how did it happen that they let 


you go so soon? " we asked. " We've always heard that peo- 
ple were kept in the ' lice * cell for weeks." 

" Many of them are/* he replied. " There was a jeweler 
friend of mine who'd been in there for thirty days, and 
twice he'd been taken to the ' conveyor.' You see, some 
people would rather lose their lives than give up their 
money. Either they won't give it up or they try to bargain 
about the amount. And there are still others who are asked 
to give up something they've never even had. That's what's 
really so horrible, for they're tortured, really tortured, 
until they wish they were dead; then they're deported to 
the concentration camp for insubordination. 

" And there are all kinds of people there: merchants, 
dentists, doctors, engineers all sorts. Anyone who might 
have some money is being taken. No matter how carefully 
money or gold is concealed, the GPU scents it and demands 
that it be turned over to them." 

Ivan Ivanovitch finished his story and we went to sleep, 
and the next morning he woke up the same as he had al- 
ways been silent and reticent. We tried to find out more 
but he would not talk. Evidently the memory of his talka- 
tiveness of the night before, occurring because of nervous 
strain for perhaps the first time in his naturally quiet life, 
was very unpleasant to him. He told us nothing more. 

The following day he was sent home " with things." Ivan 
Ivanovitch had bought himself out of prison. 


A HERE were many men whom I came across later who 
had not only undergone the tortures of the " lice " cell but 
also those of the " conveyor." x One of these was a former 
bank employee, a Jew, about forty-five years old, but in 
appearance much older. His hair was quite gray, he was 
bent and walked with difficulty. 

" I had no gray hair when I was arrested," he said. " Half 
a year at the Shpalernaya and thirty days at the Gorokho- 
vaya and look at me now; I'm an old man gray hair, sore 
legs " 

" From the ' lice ' cell? " I interrupted. 

" The ' lice ' cell is comparatively nothing," he con- 
tinued. " It's fearful, it's terrible, but it's not the ' con- 
veyor.' " 

" Just what is the ' conveyor '? " I asked. 

" The ' conveyor? ' Well imagine if you can a torture so 
terrible that if they ask you to cut off your arm you cut it 
off. That's what the ' conveyor ' is like. 

" Picture for yourself a group of about forty prisoners, 
men and women, all worn out, hungry, eaten by lice, suf- 
fering with swollen legs from long standing people who 
have not slept for many nights. Single file we were led into 

i The word " conveyor " is a literal translation from the Russian. It is 
a term used to denote that sort of endless belt which is used in factories for 
the transference of goods from one department to another, a contrivance 
familiar to anyone who has visited a canning factory. TRANSLATOR. 


a big room with three or four desks, and at each desk was 
an examining officer. Then comes another room and more 
examining officers, a corridor, stairs and more rooms with 
examining officers. At the command ' at a run ' we had to 
run from one desk to another. And as we approached each 
desk the examining officer would start shouting at us in 
the vilest language imaginable. They used their foulest 
swearing on us Jews. They would hurl their most obscene 
oaths at us and shriek, ' Kike, scum Give up your 
money! I'll run you to death! Give it up! You won't? 
Get along, you son of a bitch. Do you want to feel my 
stick? ' And he would swing his stick across the table. 

" In front of me ran a woman, a dentist, a most respect- 
able person. She was not so young, about forty, heavy and 
in ill health. She gasped for breath and could hardly keep 
on running. They snouted at her in the foulest language, 
ennumerating every sexual perversion imaginable. The 
poor woman kept on running, would fall down, be picked 
up and roughly pushed from one desk to another. She was 
screaming: ' I swear that I have no gold, I swear! I would 
gladly have given it all to you, but I haven't got it. What 
can I do if I haven't got it? ' And still they shouted their 
oaths at her. Some examining officers shout so strenuously 
that they finally lose their voices and can only shake their 
fists and threaten with their sticks and revolvers." 

" Well, and then? " 

" Then, they keep on running. Running round and 
round again. 

" But there must be an end to it? " 

" The end? The end is when the person falls down and 
can't get up any more. He is shaken, lifted up by the shoul- 
ders, beaten on the legs with a stick, and if he can he runs 
again, if not he is taken back to the ' lice ' cell and the 
next day it's the ' conveyor ' again for him. 

" This sort of torture lasts for from ten to twelve hours. 


Examining officers go away to rest; they get tired sitting 
and shouting obscenities and so are relieved by others, but 
the prisoners have to keep on running. And yet there are 
some people who won't give up their money at once. They 
know all about the ' conveyor ' but still won't give it up. 
It is not until they have run for several days, have lost con- 
sciousness, have come to and been forced to run some more 
that they surrender. At first I was angry to think that it was 
because of such stubborn people that the use of the ' con- 
veyor ' continued, but I soon learned that they were the 
clever ones, at least very often." 

" But I don't understand," said one of us. 

" You don't understand," he smiled sadly. " Well, at 
first I didn't. You see, one has to know how to give up 
money to the GPU so as not to suffer more. Let's assume 
that they are demanding 10,000 roubles of you and that 
you have exactly this sum. What should you do? If you 
agree to give up this 10,000, then the examining officer 
thinks that you probably have more maybe 15,000 or 
20,000. So he takes your 10,000, puts you in the ' lice ' cell, 
then sends you to the ' conveyor ' and demands 5,000 rou- 
bles more. And how can you convince him that you haven't 
got it? You might die on the ' conveyor/ but you can't give 
away what you haven't got. And so, in order to convince the 
examining officer that you are depriving yourself of your 
all, of something which is as vital as life itself, you must 
endure torture, risk your health and perhaps finally win 
freedom. You have to understand the psychology of the 
examining officer. 

" But we who have nothing," he continued, " what can 
we do? I swear to you now, as I did to the examining officer, 
that I had and have no money. Before the Revolution I 
worked in a banking firm and therefore they thought that 
I must have some foreign currency. They wanted 5,000 
roubles and I didn't have it. I had to bear the worst of 


treatment, have lost ten years of life and was sentenced to 
five years in concentration camp one year for every thou- 
sand roubles that I didn't have. 

" But hasn't some accusation been brought against you? " 
I asked. 

" Accusation? What accusation? Just give up the money! 
If you do you'll be free, if not it's concentration camp. 
They can always find some suitable article in the Code. 
If I had never speculated or possessed foreign currency, I 
would be accused just the same according to Article 59, 
Paragraph 12 of speculation in foreign currency. If I 
had actually speculated and had the money, I would pay 
up and go home. This is proletarian justice! " 

" And how do they pick out the people to be arrested? " 

" It's all very simple. They arrest anyone who before the 
Revolution or at the time of the NEP was in business, since 
there is a possibility that such a man may still have some 
money. Jewelers are arrested for the precious stones and 
metals which they might have, dentists for the gold which 
they must use in their work and doctors and engineers 
because they formerly earned high salaries. If such people 
spend much money, they are accused of misappropriating 
funds or receiving money for ' wrecking '; if they spend 
little they are suspected of having money invested in for- 
eign currency and this currency is demanded of them. 

" I will only add that between 80% and 90% of the peo- 
ple arrested in connection with such cases are Jews. Who 
were the jewelers, watchmakers and dentists? Jews. In the 
common cells 10-20% of the prisoners are Jews, at the 
Gorokhovaya 80-90%. Yet people say that the Bolsheviks 
are Jews, that the Jews stimulated the Revolution! Soon 
we will all be in concentration camp together. Even those 
who give up their money don't remain free. Many of them 
are arrested again for the second, third and fourth time. 
As long as they can pay they will be arrested, and when 


they can pay no more they will be sent to the concentration 
camp. The GPU is destroying the Jews, but they are doing 
it without noise and in their own fashion." 

My companion was right, for it was true that Judeopho- 
bia had reached enormous proportions in the GPU. 
Jewish prisoners were commonly addressed by the examin- 
ing officers as " mangy Kikes/' At Kresti one of the officers 
even made the Jews shout, " I am a mangy Kike," as they 
ran along the corridors back to their cells after cross-exam- 

" They collect plenty of money this way," he went on. 
" It's now one of the chief ways in which the government 
gets hold of foreign currency. The Piatiletka has failed 
there is no merchandise or goods, they must have foreign 
currency to pay for machinery purchased from abroad even 
though this equipment is no longer of use to them. So they 
are collecting it. Other countries don't care how the Bol- 
sheviks procure their money. Money doesn't smell! They 
may not want to accept our goods because they are pro- 
duced by forced labor or because they don't need them, 
but they are ever ready to trade with the Bolsheviks and 
they take willingly that money which is extorted from the 
Russian people by torture/' 


JAYS went by at Kresti much as they had at the Shpaler- 
naya, the only difference being that here the cases of most 
of the prisoners were nearing completion and, therefore, 
many were being deported. Our Professor received a sen- 
tence of ten years in concentration camp and his place was 
taken by a young army aviator. Ivan Ivanovitch was re- 
placed by an employee of the Academy of Science. Life 
took on a routine aspect and human tragedies were now 
affecting us less, perhaps, than during the first period of 
our imprisonment, when one night a new inmate was 
pushed into our cell. 

He was quite young, his clothes were torn, his hands 
trembled and his eyes wandered aimlessly. He was in such 
a state of agitation that he did not seem to see us or to 
notice his surroundings. He dropped his things helplessly 
on the floor and tried to walk back and forth in the cell. 
But there was no room and he stopped in the corner near 
the door grasping his head with his hands and muttering 
incoherent words. 

" Forty-eight hours in forty-eight hours execution. 
The end. There is no way out. What can I do? " 

He turned and twisted as if in the agony of death. We 
suggested that he sit down on one of the cots, offered to 
arrange his things for him and get him a drink of water 
but he did not hear or notice us, seeing before him only 
his own impending fate. At last in answer to a question 


from one of us as to who he was and whence he came, he 
turned to us and started to talk irrepressibly, telling his 
story and trying to make us understand the unbelievable 
and absurd course of events which had brought him to 
this pass. 

" You understand," he cried, " I suffer from hysteria. 
I have a sick imagination and am obsessed by a mania to 
invent extraordinary stories. But how can I explain that 
to the examining officers? How can I make them believe 
that it is all nonsense, that I made it all up? It's impossible. 
I'm going to be shot in forty-eight hours. And there is no 
way out." 

" But what have you invented? " we asked. 

"Dynamite that I kept dynamite. I never had any 
dynamite, but I told the girl I lived with while I was a 
student in Petersburg that I did. I don't know why I told 
her that. Probably to be interesting. She was frightened 
and made me swear that I would return the dynamite to 
the people who had given it to me for safekeeping, and I 
promised." He shrugged his shoulders, "There wasn't 
any dynamite, but I couldn't explain this to her it would 
have sounded absurd. But I soon forgot about telling her 
this. We separated. I finished the Institute, married an- 
other girl and went to the South. Life there was boring to 
my wife. I had to give myself entirely to my work but was 
earning little. She wanted to live in Moscow, to dress up 
and go to parties. We often quarreled about little things 
like a new hat or painted lips. One day she declared she 
was going away and would not return. She went out, but 
came back again and started caressing me and asking my 
forgiveness. Usually she was sulky after quarrels. I began 
to think that she really understood that she had been at 
fault, I believed that our life would start anew. In the mid- 
dle of the night I woke up, my wife was sitting on my bed 
looking at me strangely. I was frightened. 


" ' Where/ she said, ' did you hide the dynamite? ' 

" ' Dynamite? What is this nonsense? I don't know any- 
thing about any dynamite. Go to sleep/ 

" That was all. I couldn't remember when I had told 
her this nonsense about the dynamite. It must have been 
that the girl I had lived with in Petersburg had told her 
they knew each other. But I paid no more attention to this 
conversation of ours. A few days later came the search and 
arrest. My wife was arrested, too. We were taken to Lenin- 
grad, separately of course, and I did not see her and under- 
stood nothing. I was worried about her because I thought 
she had been arrested on my account. During the question- 
ings I thought at first that it was all a misunderstanding, a 
mistake. I was told names of people I had never known, 
questioned about places I had never been to. And finally 
the examining officer declared that my persistence would 
be of no avail as they knew that I had kept dynamite. I 
denied this and also that I had told anyone that I was 
keeping it/' 

" But why did you do that? " asked one of us excitedly, 
realizing that here he had lost his only chance of explain- 
ing the whole story. 

" I don't know myself why I did it. I was upset. I saw all 
the horror of my position. My wife it was undoubtedly 
she who had denounced me, after the quarrel. I don't know 
why I said ' no.' Afterwards I was afraid to contradict my- 
self, to tangle up the testimony. I was questioned many 
times and at great length by different examining officers. 
I firmly maintained that I had never kept dynamite. I said 
that I had told nobody that I kept it this was a lie. And 
it finished me I will be killed in forty-eight hours. Killed 
because of a foolish stroke of imagination, because of a 
desire to make myself interesting to a woman/' 

Again he became restless, but there was no room to move 
around; he could only stand in the corner and literally 
strike his head against the wall. 


" Why will you be killed? Why in forty-eight hours? " 
we asked. It was painful to watch his insane despair. 

" Everything came to an end today. There is no more 
hope. It's the end. Today they took me to the Gorokho- 
vaya. I was kept waiting in a large room beautifully fur- 
nished, not at all like a prison. My examining officer ran in 
several times, asked me something, fussed around. I was 
excited and completely worn out. Then he ran in again 
and said, ' Come quickly! ' I was taken into a large office 
with upholstered furniture, rugs, curtains. At the farther 
end stood an enormous desk, and at the desk sat a man 
clean shaven, pale, with a twitching face. Several Gepeists 
stood respectfully at his side, among them my examining 
officer. I felt very uncomfortable I was so dirty and 
poorly dressed. All eyes were on me; I began taking off 
my overcoat. ' This is no check-room/ shouted the man 
at the table. ' Come here! ' " 

" That was Medved, the GPU representative in Lenin- 
grad," interrupted the aviator. " I know him. " 

" Perhaps," continued our young friend, reliving the 
horror of the whole scene. "I went up to the desk. He 
was staring at me cruelly, his face twitching. There was 
complete silence. It was hard to bear. At last he spoke: ' Re- 
member, the time for joking has passed. Have you been 
keeping dynamite or not? ' 

" ' No,' I said. 

" He struck the desk with his fist: ' Are you going to lie 
to me, you wretch. Answer did you tell anyone that you 
were keeping dynamite? ' 

" ' No/ 

" ' Ah, so! Well, you'll get what you deserve, you scoun- 
drel! ' And throwing a paper across the table to me he said, 
' Read! ' 

" I took the paper and began reading, the letters danced 
in front of my eyes ' Decision of the GPU Council. Ex- 
amined Case No. of the accused according to Article 58, 


Paragraphs 8 and 6. Verdict: TO BE SHOT. ' You under- 
stand shot! I couldn't see or understand anything 

" He told me to sign that the verdict had been read to 
me, but my hand trembled so that I couldn't write. 

" ' You tremble, wretch. You're not afraid of lying, but 
you're scared to die. Write, I tell youl ' With difficulty 
I signed. 

" ' Now listen,' he said. ' Your death sentence has been 
signed, and I can kill you whenever I please. But I can 
also pardon you. Tell the truth and I shall pardon you.' 
He looked straight into my eyes: ' Tell me, did you tell 
anyone that you were keeping dynamite? ' 

" I answered, ' Yes I did.' You understand, I an- 
swered: ' Yes, I did.' 

" Then he turned to the Gepeists. ' Well? Do you see 
now how a cross-examination should be conducted? ' Then 
to me, ' What did you do with the dynamite? ' 

" ' I never had any dynamite,' I answered. 

" ' Again lies! ' He struck the desk so hard with his fist 
that everything on it shook. ' I'll kill you right now, you 
scoundrel. Tell the truth, what did you do with the dyna- 
mite? ' 

" ' I never had any dynamite! ' 

" ' Well, I shall force you to talk! Bring in the witness/ 

" The door opened, my old girl-friend in Petersburg was 
led in. I recognized her at once although she had changed 
greatly. She sat down on a chair, but did not look at me. 

" ' Do you know her,' he asked me. 

" Yes, I know her.' 

" Then he turned to her. ' Did he tell you that he was 
keeping dynamite? ' 

" ' Yes,' she replied. 

" ' Where did you keep the dynamite? ' he shouted at 


" ' I had no dynamite, I lied to her.' 

" ' You are lying now, scoundrel! ' he screamed, and then 
he turned and asked her whether she thought that I might 
have been lying about it, whether for no reason at all I 
would invent such a story. 

" ' Yes/ she replied in a low voice, ' I believe it is possi- 
ble. He's a sick, hysterical man. I think I'm sure that he 
was lying to me then, that he invented the story about the 
dynamite.' Here for the first time she looked squarely at 
me with clear, open eyes. 

" ' Yes, I lied to her/ I cried out chokingly. ' I just 
wanted to boast. I lied I don't know myself why I did it/ 

" She was then led out of the room, and he turned to me 
again. ' Don't try staging any scenes, you wretch, this isn't 
a theatre. I'll make you sing a different tune when we bind 
your hands and stick this toy to the back of your head/ He 
grabbed his revolver. His face twitched terribly and he 
shouted, ' Bring in the next witness! ' 

" My wife was led in. She looked at me with hate in her 
eyes. I stared at her: she had on a new coat and a new hat. 
Where did they come from? She was arrested at the same 
time I was, and we had no money. She couldn't buy such 
a coat. 

" ' Did your husband tell you that he had kept dyna- 
mite? ' he asked her. 

" ' Yes/ she replied loudly. 

" ' Do you believe he might have lied to you? Think 
carefully before you answer. His life or death depends upon 
it. If you say that you are sure that he had kept dynamite, 
we will shoot him/ 

" ' I am sure that he was telling me the truth/ she said, 
and jumped up from the chair. ' He was always telling me 
that he hated the Soviet Government, that he yearned for 
the coming of the White Army, that it was only because 
of the Soviet Government that he was forced to live in such 


a dull hole, that otherwise he would have lived in Peters- 
burg or Moscow, could have dressed well and dined in res- 

" It was unbearable. ' What are you lying for? ' I 
shrieked. ' What have I done to you? You were the one 
who yearned for life in Moscow, for dresses not I. When 
did I speak to you about the Whites? You know well enough 
that when I told you of my intention of entering the 
" party " you argued against it. It's you who spent all our 
money, you who insisted that I give up my work in the 
provinces and move to Moscow.' 

" And all the time the examining officer was watching us 
with unconcealed contempt. ' Here's what I'm going to do,' 
he said. ' I give you ten minutes to come to an understand- 
ing.' Then he addressed my wife. ' After these ten minutes 
are up you will give me your final answer, whether you 
consider him to be an enemy of the Soviet Government 
capable of terrorist acts or whether you think he simply 
invented the story about the dynamite for the purpose of 

"For those ten minutes my wife kept on screaming 
that I should confess to having had dynamite. She invented 
absurd conversations that had never taken place to the 
effect that I had criticized the Soviet Government and that 
she had tried to change my opinions. I tried to stop her, I 
saw that I was losing my last foothold. At times I ceased 
hearing what she was saying, became unconscious of where 
I was and what I was saying myself. At last the officer in- 
terrupted us: 

" ' Enough, I have heard enough. You've talked fifteen 
minutes instead of ten. Give your final answer: was he an 
enemy of the Soviet Government and are you sure that he 
was telling the truth when he told you that he had kept 
dynamite? ' 

" Again she jumped up from her chair, and screamed: 


' Shoot him he kept dynamite! He is an enemy of the 
Soviet Government! ' She tore open her coat. ' Look, I am 
pregnant, pregnant from him, he is the father of my child, 
and I swear that he kept dynamite, that he is an enemy of 
the Soviet Government, that he yearned for the coming 
of the Whites! ' 

" Her hysterical screams drove me completely mad. I 
reached across the desk, grabbed the officer's revolver, stuck 
it to my forehead and pulled the trigger but it did not 
go off. I found myself on the floor, one Gepeist holding 
me down with his knee on my chest, another wrenching 
the revolver out of my hand. I remembered nothing; I 
could hear only her terrible voice and laughter: ' Don't 
believe him, he is a liar, a coward shoot him! ' 

" When I was picked up from the floor, she had already 
left the room. 

" ' Confess now that you did keep dynamite,' the officer 

" ' But I didn't keep dynamite,' I cried in despair, ' I 
never had any.' 

" ' Silence. I give you exactly forty-eight hours, no more 
no less. In that time you must tell me from whom you 
received the dynamite and to whom you gave it. If you 
don't, you will be taken from the cell and shot! ' 

" I didn't know what to answer. He did not believe me 
when I told the truth. I began pacing up and down the 

" ' Stand still, you wretch, this is no parade ground! ' he 
roared as he banged on his desk. I rushed over to him and 
shrieked something to the effect that if I wanted to walk 
I would. Then I was seized and led out. 

" In the automobile, when I was being brought back 
here, one of the examining officers asked me why I had 
lied. He told me that it was clear to him that my wife's 
testimony had been false, he urged me to tell the complete 


truth that way I might be pardoned. But I know it 
would be useless. There's no way out for me do you un- 
derstand none! " 

He stopped talking. In the darkness of the night some of 
us dozed off, but all night long his desperate moans con- 
tinued. In less than forty-eight hours he was taken away 
" with things/' 


HE examining officer sent for me again exactly one 
week after our first stormy encounter. He sat at his desk 
looking sullen and grim. 

" Sit down. Well, are we going to shout at each other 
again today? " 

I shrugged my shoulders. " I don't know what method 
of questioning you are going to use today. It doesn't de- 
pend on me." 

" Then let's talk peaceably," he said. 

The talk soon narrowed to one subject " confession " 
of my own " wrecking" or of knowledge of the wrecking 
activities of Tolstoy and Scherbakoff. There was no shout- 
ing or swearing, but it was clear to me that he would not 
hesitate to use any of the " means of coercion," although 
as yet he had not decided which ones to apply. It was not 
long before I heard what I was expecting. 

" If you persist, I'll be compelled to use special meas- 
ures your wife will be arrested and kept in prison until 
you sign a frank confession." 

I remained silent. It was a cruel blow and not what I 
had been expecting. 

" Well? Does this leave you indifferent? " He spoke 
slowly, clearly, watching me closely. 

" I have told you that I have nothing to confess and I will 
not lie. I respect the investigating authorities of the GPU 


too much to make false statements just because of your 
threats," I replied with a precision that equalled his. I 
knew that this answer would make him furious. There was 
nothing he could say to it and it was my only revenge. 

He sent me back to the cell. I was in despair. For once 
I believed the examining officer. He undoubtedly under- 
stood that I could not be broken down by threats of exe- 
cution or by punitive cells; he had now struck at a new, 
more sensitive point my family. Long ago I had resigned 
myself to the idea of my own destruction, but I had con- 
soled myself in the belief that my wife and little son would 
be spared. Now everything was going to pieces. 

Would he carry out his threat? I would find this out only 
in a week when I received my remittance from home. The 
list of its contents was always written in my wife's hand- 
writing; if the writing was not hers, it would mean . . . 

But I did not have to wait a week; three days later the 
examining officer sent for me. " Yesterday I arrested your 
wife. She is now in the Shpalernaya prison." 

I was silent, thinking only of how to hide my emotion. 
He must not notice what an impression his words had made 
on me. Only by feigning indifference could I now help 

" What else could I do? " he continued, watching me 
closely. " All other means have been exhausted. We must 
force you to confess. For the present your son is still at 
home. But if you persist in refusing to sign your confession, 
your wife will be deported to Solovki." 

He paused and gave me an inquiring glance: " You, of 
course, understand what fate awaits a woman at Solovki? " 

Another pause. 

" You know they're not very considerate of women out 
there," he went on. 

" Well, what can I do about it? " I replied, holding my- 
self in hand as best I could. 


" Confess. Confess and your wife will be released imme- 

" I have nothing to confess." 

" You won't surrender? We can't be bothered with ob- 
stinate enemies. You'll be shot; and your wife will go to 
Solovki. And just think what will become of your son." 

" The Soviet Government will take care of him," I re- 
plied harshly. 

" Remember, I'm talking to you for the last time. Don't 
give me your answer now; I see you are too excited." 

I shrugged my shoulders and looked at him wrathfully. 

" Go back to your cell and think the situation over care- 
fully," he said as he picked up a sheet of paper and a pen- 
cil. " I'll wait three days three full days for your writ- 
ten confession. Write it briefly: ' I admit myself guilty of 
wrecking ' or ' I knew of the wrecking activities of Tolstoy 
and Scherbakoff.' That'll be enough. Then hand the state- 
ment to the warden on duty. I will get it immediately and 
at once give the order to set your wife free. Her release 
depends only on you. Remember this! If you don't send 
me your confession, I'm telling you for the last time, your 
next summons from the cell will be a call to execution. We 
don't joke with wreckers. You'll be shot! Don't forget the 
fate of Tolstoy. Your wife will go to Solovki, and your son 
to the house for waifs. All this depends only on you." 

He handed me the paper and pencil. 

" I will not take your paper," I cried, " what is this fool- 
ish comedy? Shoot me now, do you understand, I'm tired 
of all this, do you understand, shoot! You have your revol- 
ver and I have nothing to confess." 

" So you suggest that I take the law into my own hands," 
he replied sarcastically. " We're in no hurry. Everything 
will be done in due time, when all the formalities are com- 
plied with. I've not asked you to answer me now. You re- 
fuse to take the paper all right. You have only to call 


the warden on duty and at any moment during the three 
days you will be given paper and pencil. I give you three 
full days to think it over, but after that don't expect 
any mercy for yourself or for your wife. Go back to your 

Had he lied or told the truth? Could this really be the 
end? Was it true that my wife was in prison? 

I waited anxiously for the remittance from home, and 
when it arrived I snatched the note it was written in my 
boy's handwriting and signed " Son A. Tchernavin." What 
a signature he had invented "Son!" Poor little lad! 
At the age of twelve, instead of playing and going to school 
you have to be weighed down with remittances and wait 
around prisons. Where are you getting the money? Are you 
selling things in the market place? And afterwards how 
are you going to live? You don't even know what is in stoie 
for you in three days? 

As the third day was drawing to a close, I called for the 
warden on duty and asked for paper and pencil. On one 
half of the sheet I wrote to the examining officer, on the 
other I made a copy of my statement for the prosecutor: 
"I am accused of wrecking. I never engaged in wrecking. 
I know nothing of the wrecking activities of others; I have 
received no money illegally from anybody." This I signed 
and gave to the warden. 

Night came. The command to go to bed was sounded. 
We put out the light and lay down, but no one slept. If 
the examining officer had not lied, I would soon be called 
to execution. About one hour passed. We were talking 
quietly, our ears on the alert for any sound. At last we 
heard footsteps in the corridor and the clang of keys. Some- 
body stopped at our door. The light went on and the lock 

" Name? " said the guard pointing his finger at one of 
my companions. 


I loudly called out my name as I knew they had come 
for me. 

The guard immediately turned to me. " First name, fa- 
ther's name? " 

I answered. 

" Get going, ' with things! ' " he said. The examining 
officer had not lied. 

I collected my belongings with indifference. What did it 
matter what I took with me. I had not far to go. My com- 
panions helped me with special care as though trying to 
show that they did not believe I was being taken to execu- 
tion. Their faces were pale and serious; they were trying 
to hearten me, but avoided looking me in the eyes. The 
guard was hurrying me. How familiar it all was! How many 
times I had witnessed such scenes of people being led away 
to execution. 

I said good-bye to my companions and went out into the 
corridor. The door was slammed after me. 

" Get going! " 

" Where to? " I asked loudly. 

" Be quiet, and follow me," said one of the guards. The 
other marched behind. They proceeded carefully, stepping 
on the rope matting which covered the floor of the corri- 
dor, taking care not to make any noise. We descended to 
the floor below and into another corridor. There one of the 
guards spoke in a low voice to the warden, but I could not 
hear what was said. We moved on and finally stopped at 
the door of a cell. 

" The death cell," I thought. " This means I won't be 
shot at once." 

The lock slid back, the door opened and I went in. It 
was an ordinary cell, exactly like the one I had just left. 
It had contained five men, but there were only four left 
the fifth having just been taken away " with things." 

The following morning the examining officer sent for 


me. He had evidently tried to play a trick on me and 
wanted to see what effect it had had. But I had slept soundly 
all night in my new cell and was well able to give my face 
an expression of indifference and boredom. He questioned 
me in the usual manner as though he had forgotten the 
threat that I was to be shot. But at the end of the interview 
just before letting me go he asked a most unusual question. 

" Well, tell me, what was there in your latest work that 
could be singled out as useful to the fishing industry? 
Which of your scientific works have been applied success- 
fully? " 

I named several experiments of my laboratory which had 
received wide practical application. He made some notes 
and sent me back to the cell. 

It was not until a month later, on April loth, that he sent 
for me again and informed me that the investigation of 
my case had been closed. " You will now go and work for 
nothing in your same Murmansk; " then he checked him- 
self and added: " that is, of course, unless the Council de- 
cides to have you shot." 

It was the first time since I had been arrested half a year 
before that I had heard that I might not be shot. I went 
back to my cell and awaited the verdict with complete in- 
difference what did it matter? My only worry was about 
my wife. Would she be released? I anxiously awaited the 
remittances from home, but every time the list was in my 
son's handwriting. Two weeks passed two remittances 
and there was still no news from her. 

For six months I had been living in prison, continually 
battling with the examining officer. It had been a time of 
extreme strain. Now came the reaction. Sitting idly and 
waiting for a senseless verdict I was seized by an anger so 
fierce that it was choking me I could neither eat nor 
sleep. After three days of this internal torture I finally 


forced myself to eat, but I did it with the greatest difficulty 
and was rapidly losing weight. I was oppressed by the real- 
ization of my complete helplessness and hopelessness. I felt 
like an animal in a cage, an animal which had come to un- 
derstand that it was useless to gnaw the iron bars of his cage, 
that he could not break them down and would never again 
be free. I must escape but first it would be necessary 
to learn where I was to be sent and what was to be done 
with my wife and son. Then I could work out my plans. 
The thought of escape became an obsession, I stopped no- 
ticing the prison, the people around me I was now wait- 
ing only for my sentence. 

The 25th of April, in the middle of the day, the warden 
entered the cell, called out my name, and read: "Excerpt 
from the minutes of the meeting of the OGPU Council 
April 13, 1931. Case No. 2634 of Tchernavin, V. V., accused, 
according to Article 58, Paragraph 7. Sentence: Deporta- 
tion to a concentration camp for a term of 5 years. The 
case to be filed." 

" Sign that the verdict has been read to you," he added. 

I signed. 

" May I send a telegram? " I asked. 

" You may, if you have the money." 

I wrote a telegram addressing it to my son: " Received 
sentence. Apply for visit," and gave it to the warden. 

The same day I was taken to a medical examination and 
while the doctor was entering his report I succeeded in 
reading from the form on which he was writing: " Destina- 
tion: Solovetzki camp at Kem. Regime: Ordinary." 

Strange as it may sound, the news that I was being de- 
ported to the Solovetzki camp, famed for its unusual cru- 
elty towards prisoners, pleased me greatly. It was in a coun- 
try familiar to me from my numerous expeditions: the deep 
fiords of the White Sea, the archipelagoes, the endless laby- 
rinth of bays and straits, cliffs, granite rocks piled up in dis- 


order, the nearly impassable forests and swamps. If I could 
only get to the sea there I would be a match for the 
guards. " How far is it from the frontier? " I speculated, 
trying to visualize the map. " About 200-300 kilometers of 
completely uninhabited forest and swamp. Perfect. Just 
what I need/' And at that very moment I made up my mind 
that I would escape to Finland. 

I was a convict now no longer a citizen. From the be- 
ginning of the Soviet regime I had carried on my work as 
usual, striving to be of both scientific and practical assist- 
ance to the industry for which I worked, and living only 
on what I earned for these services yet here I was, kept 
in prison for six months and cross-examined no less than 
seventeen times. They had given me but two alternatives: 
ten years at forced labor if I " confessed/' or execution if 
I did not. I had not confessed, because I was not guilty; in 
all their records there was not a hint of any crime commit- 
ted by me. And yet they convicted me. Five years in con- 
centration camp! 

My comrades were congratulating me. 

" Only five years! And no confiscation of your property! 
Surely they'll release your wife now? " 

But would they? 


E were to be deported the following day. Early in the 
morning prisoners began to be called out to meet their 
relatives. There was great excitement among us, each one 
wondering whether he would be given a last chance of see- 
ing those he loved. During the period of investigation 
scarcely any one was allowed to see members ol his family, 
but before deportation permits for visits were granted 
quite freely. The only question was whether the relatives 
would get the news in time to go through the detailed and 
complicated formalities of procuring permits for such vis- 
its. The day was advancing, but still many of us had not 
been called out. We had lost everything would we also 
be denied the right of seeing for the last time those who 
were dear to us? 

Preparations for our departure were going on hurriedly: 
prison equipment such as mugs and bowls were taken away 
from us; a party was being made ready for the bathhouse. 
I tried not to think of the visit; the thought that I might 
be sent away without once more seeing my son was unbear- 
able. At least one hundred of us were lined up and counted 
before being led out to bathe ourselves. And just as we 
were about to start, a warden arrived with a list of names. 
He called out twenty, mine among them. One minute later 
and we would have gone to the bathhouse and I would 
have missed my boy's visit. 


Trembling with emotion we were led into a large room 
a grilled partition in front of us. About a meter beyond 
was another grill behind which stood our visitors. There 
was a terrible crush a hundred prisoners on our side and 
more than a hundred visitors on the other all desperately 
trying to find their loved ones. People were jammed closely 
together, some holding fast to the bars and pressing their 
entire bodies against the grill, their faces distorted by emo- 
tion; others hopelessly trying to find an opening in the hu- 
man mass through which they might squeeze. All knew 
that they were seeing their relatives for the last time, that 
in ten minutes they would be separated perhaps forever. 
The excitement and noise made conversations almost im- 
possible the strained and breaking voices of women, 
the ringing shouts of children it was like one terrifying 
scream of torture and farewell. 

In the midst of this chaos I saw my son. He was standing 
close to the grill, holding on to it with all his might, wav- 
ing to me and shouting with his brave, little voice. I rushed 
towards him but could not reach the grill. " Let me pass! 
Let me pass, for God's sake! " I cried, but no one heard 
me. Each one had before him only that face which was 
dear to him and heeded only their words. Frantically I 
tried to push one prisoner aside and for a second he turned 
to me, his face wet with tears, his hands clutching the grill 
convulsively. With one great effort I shouldered my way 
forward and grasped the fence with one hand. There was 
a sharp cracking and the grill started to fall. Guards rushed 
out to support it and while they were propping it up I suc- 
ceeded in getting up close to it that I might hear the words 
that my son was shouting. 

" Mother is in prison," he yelled through the din and 
meanings of other human cries. " I take remittances to her. 
They won't let me see her. She once sent me a letter." 

" And how is N.? " I shouted. 



My boy) for whom 

there had been tragedy 
enough already 33 


" She is in prison." 

"And N. N.?" 

" She is also in prison. Misha is left alone, too. He takes 
remittances to her." 

" And N. N. N.? " 

" She died." 

I was afraid of questioning him further. There was no 
one left on whose help I could count. Through the crowd 
I could vaguely distinguish a woman totally unknown to 
me who stood behind my boy. Evidently she had brought 
him to the visit. 

" If Mother is deported, try to go with her," I shouted. 

" All right," he replied, and his childish mouth twitched 
and large tears dropped fast from his eyes and ran down 
his cheeks. But he was not noticing them and was not wip- 
ing them off. 

" Have you got any money? What are you living on? " I 

" I've sold your camera." 

" Good, sell whatever you can. Take remittances to 
Mother. Send nothing to me. Now listen carefully: I am 
going to Kem. Kem, do you understand? For five years. 
And remember this: I have not written any confessions. 
I am being deported innocent. Remember well: I have not 

I was shouting loudly and to my surprise felt that my 
voice was breaking, that tears were running down my face. 

The visit was ended. We were being driven out of the 

" Good-bye, dear, good-bye! " I called out in haste amidst 
the terrible moaning and screaming that filled the room. 

" Remember Mother! Take care of her! Good-bye." 





.HE turmoil of departure began early next morning. 
We were led downstairs and lined up in military forma- 
tion. The prison administration was delivering us to the 
guard which would accompany us to the concentration 
camp. They called us out, one at a time, to a desk, asked 
us our names, the Article under which we had been con- 
victed, and the term of our sentence, and then handed us 
over " in person," together with an envelope containing 
our " case," to the convoy guard. 

There were many misunderstandings the GPU lists 
were full of errors. Names and sentences were incorrectly 
entered; we knew already that a similarity in name had 
often sent the wrong man to Solovki. 

Those who had been checked off were taken into an- 
other corridor where they were searched again and this 
time all tobacco taken from them precluding any pos- 
sibility of the prisoner throwing it in the eyes of the guard 
and thus attempting escape. Criminals often tried to effect 
such escapes and they were therefore forced to undergo a 
particularly thorough search, during which they were com- 
pletely undressed and fingers shoved into their mouths. 

At last, several hours later, we were all again assembled, 
counted once more, lined up in pairs and led to the exit, 
where each of us was given one kilo of bread and two her- 
rings provisions for the journey of eight hundred kilo- 
meters to Kem. We were all carrying our things in our 


hands, and since we were not allowed to halt in order to 
pack away the food issued to us, many were not able to take 
these rations. Little did we dream that we should be six 
days on the road! 

The commander of the guard addressed us: 

" You are to march in military formation! Obey all 
commands! One step out of line to the right or left will be 
looked upon as an attempt to escape! The guards will fire 
without warning! " 

Then to the guards: 

" Load rifles! " 

Bolts clicked. 

" Watch closely! Fire without warning! " 

The gates were thrown open and we were led out onto 
the embankment of the Neva. It was a warm spring day. 
The Neva rolled wide and peaceful. Many of us were see- 
ing it for the last time. On the sidewalk near the prison 
gates and opposite them stood small groups of people 
huddled together, mostly women and children, relatives 
who had come to get one final glimpse of their kin. Pale, 
emaciated, poorly clad, they differed but little from us, 
the prisoners. Soldiers of our guard were swearing at them, 
chasing them away and threatening to throw them all into 
prison. But the women outwitted them, running ahead 
and returning along the other side of the street in order 
to exchange just once more a scarcely perceptible smile, 
nod or glance. There was no one to see me oif : my wife was 
still in prison. 

" Get along! Don't lag behind! " we heard continuously. 
Walking, in an overcoat and carrying one's belongings, 
was extremely hard after half a year of imprisonment. I 
felt dizzy, my face burned, my heart beat violently. The 
old men suffered most; they gasped for air and stumbled; 
the guards swore at them and forced them on. Passers-by 
looked at us with lazy indifference. 


We were herded along small side streets towards the 
yards of the Finland Railway, although the Kem-Mur- 
mansk trains left from the former Nikolaevski Station. In 
other days, prisoners were taken by way of the Liteini and 
Nevski Avenues, but during the mass deportations of 1930 
this was considered to be too conspicuous a route they 
might be seen by foreigners. 

We were packed into so-called " stolipin " carriages 
third-class passenger cars with bars in the middle and 
barred windows and doors sixty men to a car intended 
for twenty-eight. Only those who had upper berths or bag- 
gage racks were able to lie down; the rest sat up for the 
whole journey, in great discomfort; walking in the car was 
forbidden. Sentries were stationed outside and inside the 
doors. Eight cars were loaded in this fashion, one of which 
was reserved for the women. Criminals and political pris- 
oners (counter-revolutionists by Article 58) travelled to- 
gether and lacking the discipline which we had succeeded 
in maintaining in the cell, these criminals were hard neigh- 

Until darkness we were kept on sidings, during the night 
we were transferred to the Murmansk railroad and only 
in the morning were we started on our way. We did not 
stop at stations, but were held up for long periods at sema- 
phores and on sidings. Evidently even here there was the 
risk that some foreign observer might see us. As a result 
of this we could not get water and suffered intensely from 
thirst. The small tank of water in the car was drained the 
very first day. As the ration given us consisted of black 
bread and herring, the thirst caused by such food was un- 
bearable. Moreover, the windows were double and closed, 
the weather was warm and it was unspeakably hot and 
stuffy in the car. We begged for only one thing water. 
We were told that hot water was allowed once a day and 
then only if the train stopped at stations where it was avail- 


able. Only once during the whole journey the first day 

were two pails of hot water brought for all sixty of us. 
For the remainder of the trip we were without water. 

We concentrated all our efforts on opening the win- 
dows which were screwed down tightly. One of the crimi- 
nals had a knife but it broke. I worked for half a day thin- 
ning a copper coin while the criminals scoffed at my labor 

an " intellectual " trying to be a burglar but when 
my screw driver actually opened the window they decided 
to make friends and to show me their skill. " Longy," a 
strong fellow about twenty years old, placed his finger 
across a big lump of hard sugar and with one blow of his 
fist smashed it to bits his finger, to be sure, started bleed- 
ing. " Lively," a youthful thief, extracted from my pocket 
my purse containing three roubles (with which I was en- 
tering my life of forced labor) and with equal artistry re- 
stored it again. " Sashka-the-Jew," apparently not more 
than fifteen, sang all his repertory of waif's songs for me 
inimitably, with feeling and musical sense. These people 
were all past redemption, but their endurance was amaz- 
ing; they were able to sleep, almost naked, in any position 
without suffering, and could endure hunger equally well. 
From the very first moment of deportation they watched 
diligently for any chance to escape. 

On the fourth day of our journey, as I remember, in the 
car next to ours, criminals had managed to saw out an 
opening in the floor through which a man could crawl: it 
was discovered only when everything was ready for an es- 
cape. Their plans showed forethought: Petrozavodsk was 
behind us and our train was passing Vigozer and Segozer, 
approaching the White Sea. Around us a forest of ever- 
greens. The days were warm, but the swamps still frozen. 
The snow had melted almost everywhere and it would be 
easy to find last year's moorberries and bilberries. 

The criminals in our car were greatly excited by the 
news of the unsuccessful attempt. 


" Where did they want to escape to? " I asked them. 

" To Leningrad, certainly. There is no other place. One 
would have to walk through the woods to Petrozavodsk as 
Ear from the railroads as possible and from there one could 
even take a train if one had the money." 

" Why would they have to walk as far as Petrozavodsk? " 

" One can't board a train here; special men of the camp 
guards search the trains and examine all papers. From Pet- 
rozavodsk back to Leningrad there is no control." 

" But in Leningrad they would be caught again." 

" Let them catch us! Such is our fate. We'll escape again. 
And it's not so easy to find us in a city/* 

" It's hard in the woods just now," I went on, trying to 
learn all I could about escaping. " There's nothing to eat. 
Nights are cold." 

" And at the camps it's going to be warm and there will 
be plenty to eat! " they rejoined sarcastically. " We're hard- 
ened to cold and hunger." 

" Why don't you escape abroad? " 

" They've plenty of their own riff-raff there; we're im- 
mediately caught and sent back. ' Politicals ' should escape 
abroad. They can't conceal themselves here. But if they're 
caught in the act of escaping, it's the end for them. They're 
killed. If we're caught escaping we only get an extension 
of our term for one or two years, that's all." 

I shall never forget one monk who was with us, con- 
demned to 10 years at hard labor. He was still young, but 
frightfully thin and pale, with sunken eyes and a racking 
cough evidently in the last stages of tuberculosis. While 
the criminals argued and quarreled, jested roughly and 
fought, he sat unmoved, looking out of the window upon 
the Karelian woods and swamps from which it was clear 
he would never return. Did he really see the cold, dismal 
landscape with its gnarled sickly birches and windblown 
firs, or did it glide by unnoticed before his eyes? During 


the whole journey he did not once lie down nor would 
he eat or sleep. Through all this tormenting time he sat 
huddled on a narrow bench beside the grated window. 

Of quite a different type was another monk, likewise on 
his way to serve a 10 year term at Solovki, a sturdy old man 
about sixty with coarse features, bald head and a shaggy 
gray beard. His voice was loud, confident and even gay, his 
laughter infectious. Evidently prison life had not broken 
his healthy and carefree nature. His various friends had 
outfitted him for the journey with warm clothes, boots and 
provisions. Probably they would not forget him in prison; 
someone had helped him to procure a good place in the 

" Don't be downhearted, brothers," he encouraged us 
loudly and cheerily. " People live in Solovki, and we shall 
be able to. The will of God is in everything. Fate willed 
that we suffer for our Lord and we will bear it. I shall ac- 
cept it with joy." 

He was going to Solovki as if on a pilgrimage it was 
his duty to go. 

A year elapsed before I met him again in the Solovetzki 
concentration camp. It was winter. He was painfully plod- 
ding along, with the aid of a stick, in a group of watchmen 
all old men like himself, all hunchbacked and covered 
with ragged remainders of their old clothes and a few con- 
vict jackets. Some had coiled pieces of rope around their 
shivering bodies for warmth. Their hair and beards, 
matted and tangled, were blowing in the wind; their faces 
were weather-beaten and red from the cold. Every night 
they were on duty at the supply stores. 

The once cheerful old monk was the tallest among them 
but nothing was left of his health and strength. His eyes 
were dim, his face lined with deep furrows. I saluted him 
but he answered indifferently without looking up. He also 
had been broken by Solovki. 


We discovered among us a criminal who had escaped 
from Solovki but had been captured and was now return- 
ing there with an extended sentence. Although only about 
thirty-five, he looked like an old man. He made faces and 
acted like a clown. 

" Hey, you! " a workman addressed him, " what will life 
be like in Solovki? " 

" You'll see for yourself; it's fun there! " replied the 
other, laughing and showing his pale, toothless gums. " See 
what beautiful teeth I have? I got them from eating kasha 
at Solovki, working in lumber camps and sitting in * isola- 
tion ' cells." 

" Is it scurvy? " asked the workman, looking at him 
with horror. 

" That's it. What was left in my mouth by the ' stick ' 
came out from scurvy." 

After this conversation we felt still more depressed. 

By the fifth day no one had any food left. All were hun- 
gry and suffering from thirst. Only sixty kilometers to Kem, 
but the train was standing at sidings more often than it 
was in motion. 

Toward the end of the sixth day of our journey on 
May first, the holiday of toilers all over the world we 
reached Kem and our train was switched to a siding. Each 
of us received a mug of hot water, but no food. That night 
and the whole of the next day we remained on the siding 
without food or water. I doubt if cattle could have survived 
under such conditions but we lived on. 

On the evening of May 2nd we were transferred by a 
railway branch to Popoff Island, the Central Distributing 
Point of the Solovetzki prison camps. 



OPOFF ISLAND is attached to the mainland by a low- 
lying portion of land which is covered with water twice 
a day, when the tide comes in. The rest of the time it re- 
mains a swamp, passable only with great difficulty. Once 
it had been thickly wooded, but now only a few crooked 
trees remain; the polar birches spread along the ground 
and moss bogs alternate with enormous granite rocks pol- 
ished by ice floes. 

The island has a harbor to which foreign ships come for 
Soviet lumber, an enormous sawmill and, at a distance 
of two or three kilometers from the harbor, two distribu- 
tion points of the Solovetzki concentration camp 
" Moreplav " and " Kop." 

We detrained and marched to " Moreplav " along a 
muddy road, across swamps and through melting snow. 
We were even more unsteady on our feet than when we 
left Kresti; we could not carry our things without drop- 
ping them now and then, but the guards drove us onward. 
For two kilometers we dragged ourselves along until we 
caught sight of wooden watch-towers, sentinels, a barbed 
wire fence and a high gate. 

" Look up! " said my neighbor, pulling at my sleeve. 

Over the gate I saw an arch decorated with branches of 
fir trees and carrying two placards: " LONG LIVE MAY IST, 




I could not help laughing; Soviet hypocrisy^ and conceit 
cannot be excelled. 

" What do you think," asked my neighbor, " is it a joke, 
for foreigners or for a moving picture? " 

We headed for a small side gate. Two guards on either 
side would seize two of us by the arms, push us through 
the narrow aperture and count loudly while a GPU agent 
checked off the pairs in his notebook. 

Again we were counted, our names checked and our 
papers inspected. At last the formality of delivery was 
finished the camp had taken us over. We stood in forma- 
tion, waiting. The short night was drawing to a close; the 
air was transparent and filled with the familiar smell of 
sea and forest. My heart was stirred with emotion. I did 
not care what was going on about me. 

" Those who have served in the GPU or the Cheka come 
forward! " came the command. 

Several men stepped out from our ranks. They were led 
aside. " Our future bosses," whispered my neighbor. 

" Those who, when arrested, were serving in the Red 
Army, come forward! " again came the command. 

A few men obeyed. " The future military guard," ex- 
plained my neighbor. " ' Forty-niners ' and ' thirty-fivers,' 
forward! " These are the articles of the Criminal Code 
covering theft, vagrancy and so on. 

" Who will these be? " I asked my neighbor. We could 
not then imagine that these criminals would become the 
rank and file of our guards, supervisors, foremen and es- 
pecially educators. 

Now only peasants, intellectuals and workmen were left 
they were the real prisoners and would have to work. 

After this division into " classes," we were ordered to 
give up all the money we had with us; it was exchanged 
for special scrip of the GPU. If the authorities decided that 
a prisoner had too much pocket money, it was all con- 


fiscated and he received no scrip in exchange. Another 
search followed. It was five o'clock in the morning before 
we reached the special barracks of the $rd quarantine com- 
pany, composed of recently arrived prisoners. It was a low 
wooden building with small windows, nearly all broken 
and stuffed with dirty rags. The prisoners' quarters were 
divided into four sections, each about five meters by thirty 
meters, the long sides fitted with two tiers of boarding and 
a narrow passage down the middle. A small sheet-iron stove 
served for heating. The floors were of thin planks which 
bent under foot, with large cracks between them. Every- 
thing was black with soot and dirt. I climbed on to the 
upper boarding and lay down against the outer wall. No 
bedding of any kind was provided; indeed it would have 
been difficult to use, for each man had only space about fifty 
centimeters wide. There were a thousand prisoners in the 
building, two hundred and fifty in each of four platoons. 
I stretched myself on the bare boards with real pleasure, 
but almost immediately I was attacked from every side by 
bed bugs and compelled to start a war against them. Hardly 
two hours had passed when the command sounded: 

" Get going to roll-call! Be quick! " 

The former Gepeists and Red Army men who had been 
deported with us were already dressed in some kind of 
military uniforms, with the word " guard " on their caps, 
and were armed with rifles. They were lining us up, order- 
ing us about, swearing, as yet timidly, but trying to imitate 
their superiors also criminals who were masters of pro- 

The company commander, a thin-faced professional 
thief, wearing an elegant military overcoat, strode up and 
down the line giving orders in a loud voice. After the com- 
mand " Attention! " he began reading the order of the day 
from camp headquarters. 

"Order of May and, 1931, Moreplav, Solovetzki-Kem 


Forced Labor Correction Camps of the OGPU." He made 
a special emphasis on the letter " O." 

" For illegal cohabitation on the territory of the camp, 
prisoner of the 5th company, Ivanoff Vassili, alias Petroff 
Ivan, and the prisoner Smirnoff Eudoxie are hereby sen- 
tenced to solitary confinement for fifteen days, but will not 
be relieved from work." 

" Prisoners Koozmin, Stepanide and Platnikoff Irene for 
careless cleaning of the building: to be subjected to seven 
days' solitary confinement." And so on. 

We listened with interest, wondering what crimes were 
committed here and what punishments followed. 

The reading finished, our commander addressed us. We 
found out later that delivering speeches was his weakness, 
that he took advantage of both morning and evening roll- 
calls to gratify it, and that these speeches were called " cul- 
tural-educational talks with the prisoners." 

" Where are you? " he began. " In the forced labor cor- 
rection camps of the OGPU. Understand? You were sent 
here as a non-productive, parasite element for correction 
and acquisition of working habits. Understand? I am your 
chief and educator. This is not the year 1930 for you! Then 
it was Camps of Special Designation of the OGPU; that 
meant destruction of the prisoners, meant swearing and 
beating. Now it is cultural and working education, lit- 
eracy, political literacy and so forth. Understand? Instruc- 
tion is compulsory according to camp regulations. We have 
a semi-military organization. For instance the company 
platoon. We have a citizen company commander and citi- 
zen platoon commanders. We have cultural-educational 
work and discipline. It's no brothel for you here. Break- 
ing discipline means violating camp regulations. Punitive 
cell. . . . Understand? " 

This introduction dragged on for a long time, then came 
the real speech. 


" A fight occurred in the company under my command. 
I see in this a violation of camp regulation and a class 
struggle. (Pause) I have found after investigation that 
prisoners Petroff and Belovzoroff have beaten up prisoner 
Gartushvili. This must be looked upon as class enmity and 
persecution of national minorities, which is class struggle. 
Understand? And what is the punishment inflicted by the 
Soviet Revolutionary Criminal Code for the organization 
of class struggle? The highest measure of National defense! 

" It follows that those guilty of violating camp regula- 
tions will be subjected to ... I will put you in the puni- 
tive cell, you sons of bitches! Understand? This is a work- 
ing correction camp and not a saloon! I'll inject proletarian 
psychology into you! " 

It was a long time before he was done and let us go back 
to the barracks, so weak that we were dizzy and so weary 
that we felt ready to lie down and die. Was it possible that 
we were not going to be fed? This was our only thought. 

The company commander came in and dispatched two 
prisoners for lunch and two others for hot water. 

" Citizen commander, and what about food utensils? 
We have nothing to eat from! " rose voices from every side. 

" What do you want the food put into your mouths? 
If you get hungry you'll find something to eat from," the 
commander said and went out. Many prisoners ran to the 
refuse pile and picked out discarded tins. 

Two pails were brought in; one contained millet cereal, 
kasha, thin and watery, the other " hot water " almost cold. 
A man's ration was approximately 200 cubic centimeters 
of each liquid (little more than half a cupful) and some 
bread. Each prisoner was supposed to receive 400 grams 
(14 ounces) of bread per day, but actually we were getting 
much less. 

" What is this? But it's death! Is it possible for a 
man to live on this? " exclamations rose from all sides. 


A few minutes later the company commander re- 

" Stand upl Attention! Who complained about the food? 
Come forward! " he shouted loudly. " No discontented? 
Take care, I will tolerate no mass action! I will immedi- 
ately refer those guilty of it to the Investigation Depart- 
ment of the camp. Talk is short there isolation or death. 
Understand? What discontent can there be? Kasha too 
thin? In the first place it's not kasha, its porridge, and por- 
ridge can't be different. Do you understand? " He glow- 
ered at us, then sharply turned around and went out. 

All those who still had some money began to search for 
food. We were not allowed to go to the GPU store, but 
with the help of the guards could buy some spoiled food- 
stuffs mildewed herring and fermented preserves. Out- 
side the prison camp such goods could not be legally sold, 
but here they brought full price from starving prisoners. 
Through the guards and through criminals, who shared 
with them in the transaction, we could buy black bread at 
five roubles the kilo (about two pounds) its official 
price was nine kopeks and also water at fifty kopeks a 
mug. Suffering as we all were from thirst, even the most 
destitute of us spent his last kopek for water. 

Tobacco could be got for three roubles fifty kopeks the 
gram and vodka at what price I cannot even imagine. 

After the depressing experience of this " lunch *' we were 
taken in groups of thirty to the bathhouse built, of course, 
by the hands of prisoners on the very shore of the gulf. Each 
man took all his things: overcoat, cap, blanket and pillow; 
these together with everything we wore had to be turned 
in for disinfection. Stark naked, we were lined up before 
an enclosure in which four barbers, also prisoners-crimi- 
nals, plied their trade with furious speed; two operated on 
the head while the others shaved the body. Coming out 
from behind the partition we were a pitiful sight. Tufts of 
hair were sticking out; blood ran down our bodies from 


razor cuts. Trembling with cold we entered the bath- 
house, receiving two tin tags which were to be exchanged 
for water and a tiny piece of soft soap. Inside the bath- 
house there was no running water; each prisoner was given 
two small basins of warmish water which cooled imme- 
diately. After bathing as best we could, we filed into the 
dressing room to wait, naked and disfigured, for our dis- 
infected things to be restored to us. They were hardly 
recognizable: crushed and smelling vilely, fur coats and 
caps were completely ruined. We returned a sad proces- 
sion to the barracks. The weather had changed, a sharp 
north wind was blowing and large flakes ot snow were fall- 
ing. In the barracks it was terribly cold. I climbed up to 
my place. The open cracks were letting in the snow and I 
had to stuff them up with my underwear. In vain we 
begged our company commander to give us wood for the 
stove; he refused. 

We were very hungry. Dinner was brought in: soup of 
sour cabbage, smelling horribly, and for a second course the 
same kind of '* porridge " as before. Something had to be 
done. My neighbor and I together bought one kilogram of 
mildewed smoked herring. After this purchase I had two 
roubles left and my neighbor, formerly a well-to-do Peters- 
burg engineer, three roubles and a halt under favorable 
conditions this money might suffice for two more meals. 
Starvation lay ahead of us. On the trip from Kem I had de- 
veloped symptoms of scurvy, bleeding gums and stiff joints. 
We only hoped that we might soon be sent to work; it was 
rumored that at work the food was better. While we were 
sadly discussing the future a commotion arose in the bar- 
racks and exclamations of astonishment were heard. 

A woman had entered our quarters! She was young, 
about twenty years old, clad in a prison coat and a very 
short skirt. Her hair was arranged attractively and her en- 
tire appearance and manners left no doubt as to her pro- 


fession. With her was a young man also in prison dress. 
Reaching the middle of the barracks and drawing the crowd 
around her she addressed us as follows: 

" Comrades! Subscribe to the loan for the Piatiletka in 
four years! Every prisoner must share in the upbuilding of 
Socialism. Let each one subscribe as much as he can. I ac- 
cept subscriptions in installments to be paid within six 

We listened to her in open-mouthed astonishment. Here 
we were, convicts, hungry, reduced to the last stages of 
poverty and they were demanding from us " voluntary " 
subscriptions to the loan! Timid voices, not so much in 
protest as in bewilderment, were raised from various sides. 

" But where shall we get it from? Everything has been 
taken from us. ... We can subscribe, but how are we 
going to pay? ..." 

" Comrades," she replied in a coyly offended voice, " this 
is a very strange attitude on the part of your company. One 
should be conscious. Where to find money? Perhaps some 
of you will get it from home." 

" They have nothing to eat at home," someone shouted 
behind her. " Their last kopeck has been taken away for 

" Then you will be sent to work," the girl continued, 
unruffled. " You'll be getting premium money." (Premium 
money is paid to prisoners who work; for an ordinary 
workman it never exceeds three roubles a month.) 

" What does this mean? " the girl continued in a sulky 
voice. " What a quantity of men, and no one wants to sub- 
scribe! Here I am also a prisoner, I have nothing, but 7 have 

"According to what article are you sentenced, citizen?" 
came a sarcastic question. 

" Article 35. 1 I am an element close to the masses." 

1 Theft and prostitution. 


" You'll not perish here, girl, you'll make money/' mur- 
mured somebody in the crowd. " She'll always have enough 
for bonds and face powder," added another. 

" Men, you should not insult me; you should be con- 
scious/' she replied, evidently not offended. 

" Comrades," broke in the young man with a voice of 
authority, '* everyone here has to prove his loyalty. Those 
who don't want to subscribe to the loan, and especially 
those who agitate against the loan, as is being done here, 
are inveterate enemies of the Soviet Government who don't 
desire to undergo correction. Against such enemies special 
measures are taken here. I recommend subscribing to the 

To our great astonishment one of the prisoners who had 
arrived with us made his way to the girl, took from her 
hands the lined sheet of paper, and entered his name for 
fifty roubles an enormous sum for a prisoner. 

" You see/' she exclaimed triumphantly, " how conscious 
this comrade is." 

The first one was followed by a second, third, and fourth. 
Then the beggars fell into line; they hesitated, sighed and 
finally wrote, some ten roubles, others fifteen roubles. The 
young man and the girl were working busily. 

" Where do you get so much money? " I asked the first 

" Well, I have donated the exact amount which they 
took away from me. Let them use it for the loan. Anyhow 
the money is lost." 

" It does not seem to be turning out so well," my neigh- 
bor said quietly. " Look, they are all subscribing; we may 
be the only ones to be ranked as enemies of the Soviet 

" Oh, let them go to the devil," I growled, " they will 
not extend our term because we don't subscribe. What a 
touching picture this is prisoners, convicts, incorrigible 


counter-revolutionists, hungry, bedraggled and degraded, 
but burning with enthusiasm for the building up of their 
Socialistic fatherland. Let's try to find out what N. does 
over there; he hasn't a kopek but he has put his name down 
for twenty-five roubles." 

I quietly spoke to N. " Are you expecting an inheritance, 
that you squander twenty-five roubles? " 

" What can I do, if everybody else is subscribing? Let the 
devil take them, let them see my consciousness and refor- 
mation! " 

"But how are you going to pay? " 

" I have no idea! I haven't a kopek and no one to send 
me any and therefore I can subscribe with a light heart. 
What can be taken from me, my pants? " 

More than half the prisoners subscribed. Only the peas- 
ants and a small group of intellectuals obstinately held out. 

" It makes no difference, comrades, you're going to sub- 
scribe! " the young man concluded sarcastically. " As soon 
as you are taken to work you will give away the first pre- 
mium money you get." 

" All right, let them first give and then take it away. In 
the meantime we have nothing." 

After they had departed, the barber appeared, donned 
a filthy smock and laid out his tools on the dirty window 

" Whoever wants a trim or shave for pay, at a reduced 
rate, get going, form a line! " 

Everybody had been so disfigured that many responded. 
Undoubtedly this barber would split his fees with those 
who had maltreated us in the bathhouse all camp bar- 
bers were criminals and strongly organized. He began his 
job, working quickly and unceremoniously; his charge 
varied with the individual for some, one rouble, for 
others, fifty kopeks. In the midst of his work, when he had 
just finished shaving one side of a prisoner's face, the pla- 


toon commander entered and called out: " Get going to 
the company commander! He wants to be shaved." The 
barber collected his tools and disappeared. 

So ended our first day at Solovki. I remembered the 
placard over the gates: 



remained in the quarantine company for two weeks, 
with little to do and suffering badly from cold and hun- 
ger. Sometimes we were driven out to load logs on small 
hand cars; other men moved them down to the wharf and 
stowed the lumber aboard foreign ships. This procedure 
had been in effect since the beginning of the campaign 
abroad against the use of convict labor in the lumber busi- 
ness. The prisoners were kept out of sight of foreigners 
and so, although lumber was cut and prepared by convicts, 
all the work on the wharves and ships was done by free 
hired labor. There was a shortage of " free labor " at that 
time and, therefore, delays in loading were common. 

When the quarantine term was ended we were trans- 
ferred to another barracks which looked better from the 
outside, but inside differed little from the first one the 
same filth, cold, crowding and bed bugs. The only differ- 
ence was an enormous placard stretched across the entire 
barracks, bearing the words: " Work without beauty and 
art is barbarism." This placard was the result of the activity 
of the " Cultural-Educational " Department. The peasants 
in bewilderment tried to decipher this strange motto by 
syllables. " Barbarism? What is it, comrade? Perhaps you 
know? " they asked. 

Now we were allowed to walk within the camp yard and 
meet the prisoners from other companies, both novices like 


ourselves and veterans who had been in the camp for sev- 
eral years. The latter were mostly peasants who had been 
working in lumber camps until hurriedly withdrawn be- 
cause of the anticipated arrival of an American Commis- 
sion which was going to investigate whether forced labor 
lumber camps actually existed. 

In preparation for this visit all lumber camps were liq- 
uidated in a few days, the prisoners' barracks leveled to 
the ground and the prisoners themselves herded back to 
the distribution points. These peasants described vividly 
to us the panic and hurry involved in this liquidation. A 
special messenger on horseback came riding swiftly to 
distant camps in the midst of the wild forest, delivered his 
message to the chief and galloped away to the next camp. 
Orders followed to stop work, to pull down the barracks, 
to tear down everything which could be destroyed. Special 
attention was given to the wrecking of punitive cells, guard 
towers and barbed wire fences. In barracks built of logs, 
which were hard to destroy at short notice, all inscriptions 
made by prisoners, all notices, orders and placards were 
scraped off or removed. Everything that could be burned 
was set on fire. A special agent of the GPU made a tour of 
inspection to ascertain that no sign was left which might 
indicate that prisoners, and not free lumbermen, had been 
at work there. Then, whether day or night, prisoners were 
driven out of the woods to the railroad. The rush and panic 
was such that many believed war had been declared and 
that all were being removed further from the border. 

If a train appeared in the distance while the large crowds 
of prisoners were being driven along the railroad tracks, 
they were made to lie down in the swamp, in the snow, 
and remain hidden until the train had passed; the GPU 
was afraid that somebody might see them from the car 

After this retreat the prisoners were dispersed among 


the various distributing points, where they languished on 
meager rations. " We felt better at work in the woods," they 
told us. " We were given one kilo of bread there here 
only three hundred grams. Kasha was also thicker. Here 
the only thing left is to die of starvation." 

" But what we miss especially is the premium tobacco 
we were getting," added another, " not much, but still four 
packages of fifty grams each a month. It's perhaps easier to 
go without bread than without a smoke." 

" Tobacco is expensive here," said another, " three rou- 
bles for one eighth of a pound, and three roubles is a 
month's premium pay. And we don't even get that here." 

We, the novices, asked a question: " Isn't it true that in 
lumber camps ' work assignments ' are allotted which no 
one can accomplish, and that this means death? " 

" No, dear man, there's no danger of it now. Beating is 
not allowed any more they stopped it a year ago. Did 
you hear about Kourilko? When he was operating here on 
Popoff Island what a number of people he crippled and 
killed! It will soon be a year since he was shot. It's your 
luck that you got here after he had gone, after 1930." 

" But what was going on here before? " 

" What was going on? Well, I'll tell you, but let's move 
farther away." 

We found a place in the sunshine sheltered from the 
wind. Peasants were straightforward people; one could talk 
to them without fear. 

" We came here to Popoff Island in 1929, during the 
time of Kourilko. We were brought in railway cars. We 
all stood waiting, holding our little boxes or bags, some 
with packs on their backs. We heard the command: ' Get 
out of the car one by one! ' The first one came out. The 
step is high from the ground you know yourself. Two 
guards were stationed below. Just as he was ready to jump, 
they shouted: ' Stop! Do you wear a cross? ' He was afraid 


to tell them that he did. ' No, I have no cross,' he said. 
' Well, jump! ' He jumped and they began to beat him on 
the head with their fists from both sides. He just dropped. 
' That's what you get for not wearing a cross! Next! ' The 
next one came up, he had heard what had happened and 
was badly frightened. ' Do you wear a cross? ' ' Yes,' he 
said. ' Jump! ' And they beat him also, saying: ' That's 
what you get for wearing a cross! ' The third one did not 
answer at all and he was beaten for keeping silent. The 
whole convoy got the same treatment. Then we were led 
behind the barbed wire and what didn't they do to us 
there! " 

An older peasant interrupted. " I will tell you how we 
were driven into the woods to work. It was winter. We were 
on foot. We had to carry our own things and pull sleighs 
with provisions and with the things of the guard. It is hard 
to walk through soft, deep snow. All of us were starving; 
our strength was failing us. We were dropping our belong- 
ings; many were discarding even their clothes. The guards 
were picking up these things, putting them on the sleighs 
and dividing them amongst themselves. When we reached 
our destination in the woods, we were ordered to trample 
down the snow. We were formed into lines and ordered to 
stamp down roads leading to the camp and a place for the 
barracks to be erected. The snow you know how it is 
here comes up to the waist and in places up to the chest. 
For the night the guards had a tent and we lay down 
just as we were, right under the trees. We cut wood for 
them and prepared their dinner. Then we built barracks 
for them but we slept on the snow under the branches. 
Next we built the punitive cell where we would be locked 
up to die; then a storehouse. When all these were com- 
pleted we were allowed to erect barracks for ourselves out 
of thin trees. It had no floor. How many of us froze or died 
felling trees and building the camp cannot even be esti- 


" And how is work in the woods? " we asked with appre- 

" Work in the woods is given out by assignment to two 
men working together. The whole assignment is called 100 
per cent. A specialist determines what per cent each tree 
represents. Where the trees are thick, fewer trees make up 
an assignment, where they are thin more trees. Well, in 
a word, the assignments were such that two experienced 
lumbermen could scarcely accomplish them in fourteen or 
sixteen hours of hard work." 

" And those who could not accomplish them? " 

" They were not fed or permitted to return to the bar- 
racks. Also they were beaten." 

" Well, and what happened to them? " 

" A man, hungry and cold, can he work? If he couldn't 
keep up with the work, the only thing left for him was to 
die. In any case he would be beaten or in winter put out 
naked on a tree stump in the bitter cold; in summer left 
outside, undressed, tied to a tree, with his hands bound, 
at the mercy of mosquitoes. A deer can't endure the mos- 
quitoes and runs away to the seashore where there is wind 
how could a man? " 

" They died? " 

" Of course they died. Many also died in the ' scream- 
cells' our name for punitive cells. They would call and 
scream in agony for some time, before death, thinking that 
someone might take pity on them, then they would quiet 
down and die from cold. And what did the guards care? 
4 Let them die, the good-for-nothings,' they would say. It 
is true, only the strongest survived. If a guard came to dis- 
like anyone he was a doomed man. They had their own 
way of doing it; they would order the man to go out into 
the woods to bring in a log, perhaps not more than a hun- 
dred feet away. Failure to carry out the order meant death. 
If he went the guard would let him get fifty feet away, then 
take aim and the job would be done. A report would be 


prepared that the prisoner had been shot attempting to 

The company broke up. I stayed behind to listen to a 
peasant from the Ukraine. 

" I will tell you of how my comrade died. Two years 
have passed, but when I think of it tears come in spite of 
all that I have seen here. He was a young fellow and be- 
longed to the sect of ' Sabbath.' They believe it is a great 
sin to do any kind of work on the Sabbath Saturday. No 
one in all the camp was his equal in work; he was tremen- 
dously strong and a steady worker, very quiet and com- 
pliant. He never spoke an obscene or even a rude word. 
He did everything he was ordered to, except that he defi- 
nitely refused to work on Saturday. He worked out his Sat- 
urday's assignment on the other days of the week in addi- 
tion to his daily quota. The supervising authorities tried 
in vain to break him; he was beaten over and over again, 
until finally they left him alone. And so it went on for some 
time. Then a new chief came to our camp. He noticed that 
on Saturday this fellow would stand idle. ' Why don't you 
work? ' ' I can't, such is my faith. I will work out my assign- 
ment but not on Saturday.' 'Ah, you can't! I'll show you 
your faith! ' and he struck him hard. 'Will you work?' 
' I can't,' he replied. Again the chief struck him. Blood was 
running down his face, but the beating went on. ' Will you 
work now? ' ' I can't work today.' ' You can't? ' He called 
the guard and exchanged some words with him. The guard 
shouldered his rifle, aiming at my comrade. ' Will you 
work? ' ' I can't; if I have to die for my faith, kill me! * The 
chief said something to the guard. The guard fired. My 
comrade moaned and fell. He was still alive, his chest shot 
through. The chief approached him. ' Will you work? ' and 
kicked him in the face with his boot. I ran up to my com- 
rade and begged him to comply, to take a saw in his hands, 
if only for appearance. ' For God's sake do it,' I entreated, 


' otherwise you will be killed/ But what question could 
there be of work when the man was dying? He raised him- 
self up, looked at me and fell face downward in the snow. 
They kicked him, over and over again, and left him alone. 
After work we were allowed to bury him/' 

My companion had been speaking slowly, sadly, without 
indignation or resentment, as they all did. How many 
stories of this kind I have heard, especially from peasants 
and from fishermen with whom I had to live and work, 
and they were always told not alone as narratives of indi- 
vidual human lives but as revelations of an implacable fate 
that was wiping out mankind. 




UR company commander in his speech of " Welcome " 
had dwelt upon the change of policy in the GPU camps, 
since the spring of 1 930. It was true that a special commis- 
sion, sent from Moscow to the Solovetzki camp had de- 
clared that the destruction of prisoners, systematically car- 
ried on for many years, and now, it was implied, for the 
first time discovered by the GPU, was due to irresponsible 
actions of the camp officers, recruited from the ranks of 

Fifty supervisors, guards and other camp officials, includ- 
ing Kourilko of Popoff Island, famous for his cruelty, were 
summarily shot. Several salaried Gepeists were transferred 
to other camps, but many executioners still succeeded in 
retaining their posts. In this case, as always, the GPU had 
not paid with their own heads. 

There was a change, however. The former " Camps of 
Special Designation " were now to be called " Solovetzki 
and Kem Working Corrective Camps." The abbreviated 
form of this new name, " SIKTL," being unpronounceable, 
the old abbreviated name " OOSLON " continued in cur- 
rent use, and the emblem and trademark of the camps 
an elephant was left unchanged. (" Slon " means ele- 
phant in Russian.) This trademark can be found on many 
goods in the U.S.S.R. 

Punishments, whether reduction of rations or solitary 


confinement and death, were now to be imposed only ac- 
cording to the decision of higher authorities who had no 
direct contact with prisoners. Their judgments were to be 
announced in the order of the day. In this way the life of 
the prisoner became a little less terrible. 

Evidently the underlying reason for this abrupt change 
in policy was the tremendous influx of prisoners in 1930 
which came as a result of the failure, then already quite 
apparent, of the Piatiletka in industry as well as in agricul- 
ture. No longer tens of thousands but hundreds of thou- 
sands of " wreckers," " kulaks " and " sub-kulaks," found 
themselves in convict camps. 

It was utterly impossible, even under the Soviet regime, 
to keep such hordes of prisoners concealed on isolated is- 
lands of the White Sea and in the wilds of Karelia, treat- 
ing them in whatever way one pleased, without the news 
of it leaking out and spreading. " Undersirable " publicity, 
in 1929 and 1930, found its way abroad. Especially unfor- 
tunate for the GPU had been the testimony given under 
oath by the medical student Malisheff who had escaped 
from the Solovetzki camp. The foreign campaign against 
forced labor in lumber camps was injuring the camp's 
basic activity which brought in the foreign currency so in- 
dispensible to the GPU in its work abroad. 

Soviet counter-agitation, such as the badly staged film, 
" Solovki" and a few articles in Soviet journals, where 
Solovki was represented as a resort offering a pleasant rest 
to prisoners, had no success whatever. To continue the 
destruction of prisoners behind such a thin screen had 
become impossible. 

Finally, the destruction of prisoners was recognized as 
commercially unprofitable. Why destroy a working force, 
often highly qualified, when it can be made to produce a 
profit? Therefore, from 1930 onwards the concentration 
camps were transformed into a tremendous system of slave- 


driving enterprises of the GPU. At the present time, the 
GPU no longer tries to conceal the existence of forced 
labor; it has taken the offensive: having given to its camps 
an appearance of corrective institutions for dangerous crim- 
inals, it widely advertises these institutions, its educational 
work there and the results of the working activity of its 
pupils. Soviet writers, such as Gorki and Alexis Tolstoy, 
are now by order of the GPU writing novels and comedies 
in which they sing the praises of forced labor. Meanwhile, 
under cover of all this noise the GPU carries on its work 
on the quiet and collects enormous profits from its slave 

This new system, the economic features of which I shall 
describe more fully later, brought a decided change in the 
preliminary treatment of prisoners as we had already 
found out. It had been decreed that lice should be abol- 
ished; that explained the hair-cutting and shaving and the 
disinfecting of our things. No longer would there be 
the " lice regime" and " lice cells," either in prisons or in 
the camps, which had been such powerful weapons, in the 
hands of both examining officers and camp authorities, for 
the liquidation of prisoners. Epidemics of eruptive typhus 
caused by lice had never ceased; victims died by thou- 
sands. Now, after treatment at one of the " distributing 
points," if a single one of these vermin was found on a pris- 
oner when he came up later for medical examination, the 
physician at the " point " got thirty days in a punitive cell. 
There were to be no more epidemics the maximum work 
must be obtained from prisoners. 

A personnel bureau, also composed of prisoners, took 
care of the registration of newly arrived prisoners at the 
distributing point. Individual cards were filled out for each 
prisoner, showing his special qualifications and the work 
to which he might be assigned; these cards were then sent 
to the office of the central administration of the camps 


which also received all requisitions for labor from the 
various camp sections. 

Next came a medical examination of the prisoners to 
determine their physical capacity for work. In 1931-32 all 
were divided into three groups; the first group, those fit 
for any manual labor; the second, those fit for lighter work; 
and the third, those unfit for any kind of hard labor. This 
classification was changed from time to time; once there 
was another group of those who could not walk unaided. 
Prisoners in the first group were used in lumber camps, 
road construction, land reclamation, loading and unload- 
ing operations, in the fishery section, and so on. Those in 
the second group were assigned to the same classes of work 
but on lighter jobs, while the third group was put to work 
as watchmen, cleaners, office clerks, etc. 

Some prisoners arrived in such condition that they could 
not even sit up for example, Professor Farmanoff, who 
before his arrest in 1930 was giving a course in Ichthyology 
at the Petrovski Agricultural Institute. He was seventy 
years old and paralyzed in both legs; he had been carried 
on a stretcher from the prison to the train and thence to 
the camp hospital where he still remained, unable to sit 
up on his cot, through the years 1931-32. He was still there 
when I escaped. It is horrible to think of his dark and hope- 
less fate. 1 

As a general rule all prisoners in the first group are sent 
to manual labor: exceptions are made only for those special- 
ists whose services are needed by the GPU; they remain, 
however, under the constant danger of being sent back 
to " regular work " in case their special knowledge is no 
longer needed or there is shortage of labor, or as punish- 
ment for disobedience or some error. Educated persons of 
the second and especially the third group are usually sent 
to the numerous administrative offices of the camp as clerks, 

i See page 73. 


bookkeepers, statisticians etc. Priests, however, form a spe- 
cial class: according to special instructions from the GPU 
they are sent only to hard manual labor or, in cases of com- 
plete disability, are appointed night watchmen. Those 
whose specialties are of no practical value to the GPU, such 
as historians, archaeologists and literary men, have the hard- 
est time of all in finding suitable assignments. 

Doctors, who are also prisoners under the strict super- 
vision of GPU officials, are told in advance what percentage 
of recruits they are allowed to find unfit for work. They 
dare not disobey. Considering the condition in which men 
reach the camps after prison life and the journey, no 
normal medical commission would have been able to find 
a single healthy man really fit for heavy manual labor. 
But the plight of doctors and prisoners is aggravated when 
there is a shortage of labor in the GPU, such as occurred 
in the summer and autumn of 1931, when the construction 
of the White Sea-Baltic Canal began. Conditions were 
frightful; the prisoners worked in swamps, in forests, with- 
out living quarters, in miserable clothes. The casualties 
were unbelievable. To provide replacements a reexamina- 
tion of the second and third groups was ordered and all 
those below the age of fifty, if only they had arms and legs, 
were transferred to the first group and sent to dig the canal. 
The first group is never reexamined; a man stays in it 
until he drops. 

After this preliminary classification, prisoners were dis- 
tributed among the various sections of the camp as called 
for by requisitions. Most of them departed for work with 
the vague hope that life would be a little easier; only the 
detachments taken to the Solovetzki Islands left with ap- 
prehension. These ill-fated men knew that they were 
branded as especially dangerous prisoners and, therefore, 
had little chance of " amnesty " or any reduction in their 
term. Fearful also is the extreme isolation of the Solovet- 


zki Islands, especially in winter when for seven months 
contact with the mainland is maintained only by occasional 
trips of GPU aeroplanes. 

Doctors and actors were always the first to be " distrib- 
uted " individually, often on the day of their arrival, 
with entire disregard of quarantine requirements, for the 
reason that they were at the disposal, first of all, of the hired, 
free officials of the GPU. The wives and mistresses of these 
Gepeists continuously demand medical attention for them- 
selves and their children from the ablest physicians whose 
" arrival " is always known in advance. Actors and actresses 
are awaited with no less impatience; a theatre, with small 
opera, musical comedy and dramatic casts, is attached to 
the camp headquarters and follows these headquarters 
when they are transferred from one place to another. The 
actor Ksendzovski, former director of the " Musical 
Comedy " in Petersburg, was at one time the leading man 
in this theatre. Unfortunately I never had a chance to 
visit this peculiar slave theatre, but I sometimes heard sad 
news about its life and from day to day I watched the de- 
cline of a young and pretty actress who, under the condi- 
tions of camp life, had very soon lost her voice, left the 
theatre for a clerical position, and was compelled to spend 
the whole long day, until eleven at night, in the heavy 
smoke-laden atmosphere of the administration offices. 

Next, after the doctors and actors, the engineers and 
technical men were singled out agronomists, lumber 
specialists, bookkeepers. The rest of us were eager to hear 
about all the camp activities in the hope that, somewhere 
among them, we might find work in our chosen field. 

Talking with old-timers returned from lumber camps, I 
learned that a whole fishing industry section was included 
in the camp organization and that the fisheries were located 
in sparsely inhabited places along the western shore of the 
White Sea. 


I knew that region and it seemed to me that, if I could 
only get to work as a specialist there, I should have taken 
the first, perhaps scarcely perceptible, step towards my goal 
escape. All that I could do now was to give on my regis- 
tration card such information about myself as might in- 
fluence the management of the fishery section to believe 
that my work would be of real value to them. To that ex- 
tent I succeeded. Only a month had passed before I was 
told, in confidence, by the employees of the registration 
department, also prisoners, that the Administration of the 
fisheries in Kem had requisitioned me as a scientific spe- 



SPECIALIST I might be, but as a convict I had to report to 
my new chiefs. In prison clothes cheap cotton shirt, 
pants and cap, a well-worn army coat and old shoes I 
marched through the mud, an armed guard beside me, to 
the railway station of Popoff Island. I scarcely noticed the 
drenching rain. Convict though I was, Fortune had begun 
to smile on me. 

The guard sat down beside me in the car, keeping his 
rifle between his knees. There were many passengers: work- 
men from the saw mill, peasants, women and children, free 
people who were carrying on the casual conversations of 
ordinary life. I had not seen children for a long, long 
time. I wanted very much to talk to a small, light-haired 
boy who sat opposite me and who was slyly looking me 
over, but I could not " illegal intercourse with free peo- 
ple " would have brought me to a punitive cell. 

Through the open window I could see swamps and thin 
forests, but not a single human being a dreary and dis- 
mal landscape. I turned over in my mind the chances of 
escaping from the train . . . perhaps one could jump off 
while it was moving . . . probably the guard would not 
follow ... he would shoot, but the motion of the train 
would spoil his aim . . . the forest nearby was thin but 
still it afforded sufficient cover. ... At that moment I 
noticed a road alongside the track and a man on horseback, 


with a rifle, following our train. When we came to a stop 
he would overtake us and slowly move ahead; when we 
passed him he would change to a gallop, be left behind and 
then catch up with us at the next stop. Undoubtedly he was 
doing this for some reason: he could easily detect a fugitive 
and capture or shoot him. No, one must be more cautious, 
I thought, they are not so careless. 

At the last stop before reaching Kem my guard gloomily 
commanded: " Well, get going, get outl " We were bound 
for Veguerashka. 

Two kilometers to the west, on the shore of the gulf lay 
the low, gray little town of Kem; to the east was a section 
of the Solovetzki camp Veguerashka, built in 1930. After 
the transfer of the camp administration from the Solovetzki 
Islands to Kem, Veguerashka was under the eyes of the 
higher command and prisoners here were said to live under 
better conditions than elsewhere. 

Veguerashka stretches along the left bank of the river 
Kem and is encircled on the land side by a high barbed 
wire fence, equipped with watch towers for guards. Inside 
the barbed wire are two-story log barracks for the prison- 
ers, built with a certain pretence to style. The window 
frames are very large, but set at wide intervals and covered 
by close lattice work. (In 1930 it had been impossible to 
obtain panes of glass of any considerable size.) The roads 
leading to the barracks are muddy and the buildings stand 
on swampy ground. Narrow wooden boardwalks are laid 
alongside the barracks. Nearer the river bank many other 
buildings had been erected without any system whatever 
the kitchen, bathhouse, two stores, the printing house, 
bakery, electric power station and hospital. 

A few prisoners in gray garb were visible on the board- 
walk near the buildings, wandering about aimlessly and 
slowly; they were the sick, who had been relieved from 
work, and a few men just arrived from other camps and not 


yet appointed to any work. The building nearest the en- 
trance was the women's barracks; political prisoners and 
criminals were quartered in it together elderly women 
of refinement, mostly wives of professors, young girls, 
students, nuns, peasants, gypsy women who had not yet 
lost their proud, free bearing even in prison and, most 
conspicuous of all, the representatives of the Leningrad 

I was assigned to the barracks of the third company, con- 
sidered to be the best and the cleanest; it contained edu- 
cated men exclusively: doctors, engineers, agronomists, 
technicians, bookkeepers and so on, all holding responsible 
positions in the various departments of the camp adminis- 
tration. But the barracks differed but little from those on 
Popoff Island; the same dirt and crowding a thousand 
men, five hundred on each floor, in double bunks. 

Each prisoner had the same fifty centimeters' width of 
bare boards on which to sleep, eat and spend all his free 
time during the long years of his absence. The lighting 
was poor small, unshaded electric lamps fixed on the 
ceiling, shining all night long into the eyes of those on the 
upper tier of bunks, while those below were almost in 

I had become hardened to everything, I thought, after 
ten months of imprisonment, but here the overwhelming 
stench was unbearable. The toilets for a thousand men 
were inside the building and had no running water. Every 
night they were bailed out and we would literally gasp for 
air. Sleeping men would moan and toss about; I had acute 
attacks of sickness and in search of a little fresh air would 
cautiously step past the dozing guards to the stairway, try- 
ing to remain there the whole night, pressing close against 
the wall to escape detection. 

The day's routine began at seven. A thousand men in 
one washroom without soap or towels, for half an hour, 


and then out into the yard where the line formed for ra- 
tions in the rain or snow. Kasha from boiled millet or 
barley, and bread the basic ration were issued accord- 
ing to the " groups " to which a prisoner belonged. First 
group, 800 grams; second group including specialists in 
production 500 grams; all others, 400 grams. The first 
group manual laborers were given a few drops of 
vegetable oil in their kasha. Those who had tea-kettles 
could get a little hot water. Everybody hurried because of 
the long procedure which followed before one could leave 
for work outside the camp. First a " work book " had to be 
obtained from the company commander in the barracks, 
then this book had to be presented at camp headquarters, 
where a permit was issued to leave the camp. Those who 
had received their books and permits were lined up on 
the boardwalk and led to the gates, where the sentinel 
counted the prisoners and checked the permits. Outside 
the fence the prisoners were again lined up into formation 
and then led away under guard to their places of work. 
Eight o'clock was the hour of departure and by nine o'clock 
all prisoners had to be at their posts in the many camp 
institutions distributed over the whole town of Kem. 

Some of the guards were exacting service men and re- 
quired us to keep a military formation, but we were miser- 
ably shod and many of us ploughed through the sticky mud 
nearly at the end of our endurance. 

" Don't break the lines! " the commander of the guard 
squad would shout, halting us and lining us up. " I'll keep 
you standing here till eveningl " 

" What do we care! " would be heard from the lines. 
" The term still goes on! " Then the guard would rush to 
find the offenders, collect five or six documents and note 
down the names that meant five to ten days in punitive 
cells for the offenders. 

There were other formalities upon arrival at the place 


of work and then it was work the whole day through. At 
five came a recess, the formation in the street, the assem- 
bling of the various detachments, and the march of two kilo- 
meters back to Veguerashka, another roll-call and the sur- 
render of documents before the hungry workers dragged 
themselves to the kitchen windows for a dinner at six 
soup with a few leaves of rotten cabbage and a small piece 
of salted horse or camel's meat and a spoonful of the morn- 
ing's boiled millet. At seven it was time to " take out the 
documents " once more and march off to night work which 
began at eight and ended at eleven. It was midnight before 
we returned to the barracks, received another spoonful of 
kasha and some hot water, and lay down upon the bare 
boards, tortured by bed bugs and the prevailing stench. 

There was scarcely time to fall asleep when the night 
inspection began; and although we were not forced to get 
up for a roll-call, there were always errors in the lists and 
all would be awakened. 

There was no heat in the barracks unless the prisoners 
collected rubbish to burn; wood was not supplied and 
yet this was winter in the Far North. 

So would life go on and still goes on for thousands of 
Russians for the five or ten long years of prison terms, 
hopeless, monotonous days and restless, troubled nights. 



. Y first day I started off to work alone. Before my per- 
mit was issued, the group to which I belonged had already 
been led away to Kem. I cannot describe how strange it 
seemed, after months of imprisonment, to be walking alone 
along a street without a guard at my heels. I had about two 
kilometers to go a half hour's walk. In order to realize 
my new " freedom " to the full I would walk now faster, 
now slower and then stop; I could do this of my own free 
will with no one to shout threateningly at me from behind. 
I had difficulty in checking a continuous desire to look 
back in order to assure myself that no guard was following 
me. I kept to the middle of the street, for I knew that any 
camp officer or guard who met me walking on the sidewalk 
in Kem could send me to a punitive cell, but I walked 
slowly and crossed over from one side of the street to the 
other several times, taking my time. 

The GPU risked nothing in letting me out without a 
guard; I was dressed in prisoner's clothes, I had neither 
provisions nor money. Not only the town itself but all the 
roads about it swarmed with guards. Furthermore, my wife 
was a prisoner in their hands at the Shpalernaya and my 
son also was in Leningrad; if I escaped they would be held 
as hostages. 

J was no stranger in Kem for I had been there in other 
days, doing experimental work in the White Sea. It is a 
fishing village rather than a town, spread out along the 


river bank, with one paved street (built by prisoners in 
1928) and small, gray wooden houses. In the upper section 
of the town, on a mound, stands the beautiful old Cathe- 
dral built in the lyth century, now in a sad state; from 
one dome the cross has fallen while from the central dome 
a radio antenna projects. It is permitted to hold services 
there once a year but the townspeople are too poor to 
keep the Cathedral in repair. 

Here, in Kem, was the stone building occupied by the 
Solovetzki Camp Administration, built in the time of the 
NEP and designed for other purposes. The ground floor, 
with enormous plate glass windows, had been occupied by 
a luxurious department store for GPU officials, an elabo- 
rate barber shop and a photographer's studio. But the chief 
pride of the GPU had been a large restaurant on the second 
floor, with a balcony for the public and a platform for the 
orchestra. Here the Gepeists revelled day and night 
there were also private rooms at their disposal. The GPU 
used to boast that nowhere else in the U.S.S.R. could better 
food and service be obtained. There was a reason; here 
worked the best cooks and confectioners taken from all 
parts of Russia. Former owners of famous restaurants 
served as waiters; the slightest error or a word of dissatis- 
faction from a " customer " meant, for the employee-slaves, 
a term of solitary confinement or transfer to the lumber 
camps. The orchestra, too, was first-rate; it was composed 
entirely of real musicians. 

Times changed, the store was abolished and the main- 
tenance of a luxurious restaurant for public revels was in- 
consistent with the new general policy of the party. Both 
restaurant hall and stores were cut up into a number of 
small cages where, packed in like herrings in a barrel, spe- 
cialist-prisoners created Five-Year GPU production plans 
and added up the profits of forced labor. But one building 
could not house the enormous administrative body of the 


GPU. All the best private houses were confiscated and la- 
belled with GPU signs, intelligible only to the initiated. 

My destination was the Section of Fisheries, the so-called 
" Ribprom" with its headquarters in one of these houses, 
where, in days gone by a rich peasant must have lived. I 
entered it. The small low room was filled with desks of 
various sizes and shapes so close to each other that one 
could scarcely pass between them. At these desks, seated 
on stools (chairs were considered too great a luxury for 
prisoners) , were " specialists " at work writing, reading and 
calculating. Over some of the desks hung signs: " Office 
Manager," " Bookkeeper," " Production Manager," and 
so on. At a small table sat a young girl, in prison dress, be- 
fore a typewriter. The room was noisy, and the air filled 
with tobacco smoke. 

I was greeted with cordiality by the specialist-prisoners, 
my colleagues in the new work, all university men con- 
victed as counter-revolutionists, and all dressed as poorly 
as I was, in a combination of civilian clothes and prison 
raiment. Their thin, drawn faces and especially their gray 
complexions were eloquent of their hardships. They seated 
me at a table, brought me a mug of hot water, a bit of black 
bread, a few small salted herrings and several pieces of 

" Please eat, don't be shy. The herring is of our own 
catch, from the fisheries; we got it through ' pull.' The 
chiefs have not come in yet: only our own people are here; 
don't be afraid, there are no spies." 

I refused the sugar because I knew it was a great delicacy. 

" Do eat it! N. got it in his packages from home we're 
allowed to receive them here; that is what keeps us alive. 
They reach us safely of course they're censored, but 
everything is untouched because in the package depart- 
ment here only political prisoners are at work honest 


" I have nobody to send me packages," I replied, still 
declining to accept the sugar. " My wife is in prison, my 
son is at home alone and has to take remittances to his 

I learned from my new colleagues that I had been as- 
signed as an " ichthyologist," and from the " regulations," 
which they showed me, I saw that my duties were to in- 
clude research on fish biology and fish breeding. Fate was 
certainly favoring me. 

It was about ten o'clock when the assistant to the Chief 
of the Section came in to his " office " in a corner of the 
same room. He called for me two hours later. I spent the 
intervening time thinking over what I would say to him 
and decided that I would ask for research work because it 
would demand travel at sea and along the shore, affording 
me a certain freedom of action which ought to facilitate 
my escape. But I must invent some objective for my re- 
search which would be of practical interest to them; I 
could do only that after I was familiar with their activities. 
Soviet experience had taught me this. 

I was called in to see the chief, V. A. Kolossoff. Let me 
interrupt my story to tell what I heard, as time went on, 
about him. By training he was a lawyer and after the Revo- 
lution had held the post of prosecutor somewhere in Tur- 
kestan, in Tashkent, I think. A non-party specialist could 
hold such a position only if his actions had clearly demon- 
strated his loyalty to the Bolsheviks. In 1928, however, he 
had made some kind of slip, got involved in a criminal case 
and had been sentenced by a court, not by the GPU, to 
three years in the Solovetzki concentration camp and to a 
further three years of exile in a distant province. He 
reached the camp during its most terrible period, but he 
managed to survive and to prosper through his attachment 
to one man. 

Those were the days when the notorious Frenkel was 


flourishing, then a political prisoner, now a Gepeist. Fren- 
kel, understanding very well that it was impossible to sur- 
vive under prevailing conditions, presented to the Chief 
of the camps a project which should transform this losing 
enterprise into a gold mine for the GPU namely the 
maximum use of forced labor in lumber production and 
road construction. The project was approved and Frenkel 
became the head of all production activity. It was his or- 
ganization of the lumber export trade that furnished the 
GPU with foreign currency needed for its work abroad. 
One cannot even estimate how many thousands of prison- 
ers were sacrificed to make his career. Among his latest 
inventions are the White Sea-Baltic Canal and the Moscow- 
Volga Canal. Chekists came and went in the camp, but 
Frenkel outlived them all; he is still firmly established in 

Kolossoff became private secretary to this powerful Fren- 
kel and was immune. He enjoyed telling how once, while 
still a prisoner, he had drunk himself into complete obliv- 
ion, had attacked a sentinel of the guard, had disarmed 
him and then climbed up, rifle in hand, to the watch tower 
where he had peacefully gone to sleep. Brought up before 
the commandant, he proudly boasted: " I am the secretary 
of the chief camp Jew." That was enough. The drunken 
Kolossoff was carefully transported to his " free " apartment 
in Kem. This incident had for him no unpleasant conse- 
quences whatever. Next morning when he reported to his 
chief, Frenkel asked him laughingly: "Is it true that in 
the commandant's office last night you called me the ' chief 
camp Jew? "' "I really remember nothing of what hap- 
pened yesterday," he replied. 

At the end of his term, rather than going into exile he 
had preferred to remain at the camp, as a free hired em- 
ployee of the GPU. He brought his wife to an apartment 
in Kem and lived quite comfortably, enjoying all the priv- 


ileges of his position the right to receive a variety of 
provisions, the use of a horse, and so on. 

In the section of fisheries this clever and cunning man 
was in charge of all the production, planning and commer- 
cial work, although he knew nothing about the fishing busi- 
ness. That, however, is not unusual in the U.S.S.R. where, 
as a rule, the chief sits in his office, signs his name, and 
takes part in meetings and conferences armed with plans 
and figures prepared for him in each specific case by the 
specialists. In fairness to Kolossoff it must be admitted that 
he used these materials quite well and therefore enjoyed, 
among the GPU chiefs, the reputation of an efficient and 
experienced executive. 

This was the man now sitting opposite me, sprawled in 
an armchair and contentedly stroking his well-groomed 
graying mustache. He was looking at my wretched prison- 
er's clothing, which hung on me like a bag, and at my head 
with its tufts of hair. From his self-satisfied expression I 
judged that the superiority of his position gave him real 
pleasure. I found out later, however, that he was not un- 
kind and that his attitude towards specialist-prisoners was 
quite decent. 

" Well, how are we going to use you? " he began. " I 
know you are a learned professor, but ours is a production 
enterprise and I think we will attach you to production 

" Unfortunately I have never worked directly on pro- 
duction," I began boldly, " and I doubt if my work in that 
field could be useful to you. My specialty is research. Judge 
for yourself," and I enumerated the most important re- 
search works I had done, carefully avoiding any mention 
of my work in production. " I believe that good research 
work would be of greater use to the enterprise than poor 
production work. Furthermore I would never dare take 
up work I know nothing about." 


" Nonsense," he interrupted. " You know I am a lawyer 
by training and was once a prosecuting attorney, yet here I 
am in charge of all the production. We are not going to 
press you. Look around, rest, acquaint yourself with our 
enterprise and we will talk it over later. Determine for 
yourself what kind of work you can do here. You are ap- 
pointed as an ichthyologist; that's a very indefinite position. 
We'll be able to use you on any kind of work." And the 
interview had come to an end. 

That very day, sitting on a stool at one corner of a 
wooden table made from a drafting board, I began the 
study of the Section of Fisheries as an enterprise. Perspec- 
tives were opening up before me: I had already determined 
to concentrate all my efforts to obtain an assignment to 
research work in the North with one underlying purpose 





ROM my own investigations of the Fisheries Section and, 
as time went on, from conversations with prisoners in other 
sections and in the central administration of the camp, its 
complicated structure and its operations as a productive 
commercial enterprise were becoming clear to me. Let me 
describe them. 

In 1931 the Solovetzki camp reached the height of its 
development. It contained fourteen sections. The river 
Swir and Lake Ladoga formed its southern boundary; its 
northern limit was the Arctic Ocean. The enterprises of 
this so-called camp extended approximately 1500 kilo- 
meters along the Murmansk railroad, taking in also the 
whole of Karelia. It was still growing and tending to ex- 
pand beyond these limits. To the east this was checked by 
another enormous enterprise owned by the GPU the 
Northern Camps of Special Designation and to the west 
by the closeness of the Finnish frontier. Therefore the camp 
was reaching out to the islands of the Arctic Ocean, Kol- 
goueff and Vaigash, and to the southern shore of the Kola 
Peninsula (Kandalaksha and Terek shores of the White 
Sea) . The number of prisoners was increasing daily. Enor- 
mous projects were being carried out and plans for even 
wider activities were under way. 

Operating independently on the territory of the so-called 


autonomous Republic of Karelia the Solovetzki camp estab- 
lished there, on a large scale, its own commercial enter- 
prises, duplicating all the enterprises of that state. The 
camp had its own fisheries and lumber camps, its own 
brick-yards, road construction, agricultural and cattle 
farms all of which were completely stifling Karelian 
industry. Besides these activities of a permanent nature the 
camp also undertook work of temporary character on a 
still larger scale. Some of this work had a definitely strategic 
purpose; for example, the construction of the White Sea- 
Baltic Canal (actually the joining of the Onega Bay of the 
White Sea with Lake Onega) , the building of highways 
to the Finnish frontier, the reclaiming and levelling of 
large expanses of swamps and woods for military airports, 
the erection in the most important strategic points (Kem, 
Kandalaksha, Loukhi and others) of whole towns for quar- 
tering troops, with barracks to accommodate thousands of 
men, hospitals, warehouses, bathhouses, bakeries and so 
on. Besides this, in 1930-31 the camp also engaged in ac- 
tivities of an economic nature: the clearing of marsh land 
to be used for camp farms, preliminary work for the con- 
struction of a Soroka-Kotlas railroad which was to join 
the Siberian trunk line with the Murmansk railroad (this 
work was abandoned in 1931) , the preparation of firewood 
for Moscow and Leningrad, and other activities. 

In 1932 the GPU evidently decided that the Solovetzki 
camp had grown too big and it was, therefore, reorganized. 
After many changes, two new independent camps the 
White Sea-Baltic camp (for the construction of the canal) 
and the Swir camp (for preparation of firewood for Mos- 
cow and Leningrad) were finally formed and were no 
longer a part of Solovetzki. 

Each camp had many sections. Every section was a com- 
plete commercial entity, similar to those which in the 
U.S.S.R. are called "trusts," designed to make profits by 


productive commercial operations. Each section had its 
own budget, its invested and working capitals. The admin- 
istration of the section, as in all Soviet " trusts," included 
the following departments: planning, production, tech- 
nical, commercial, bookkeeping and executive. The higher 
officers were usually three in number: the section chief and 
his two assistants. The section was composed of production 
and commercial units the nature of which depended on the 
section's activity: factories, trades, agricultural farms, lum- 
ber camps and so on. Each section worked in a definite 
production field and had its own distinct territory. The 
marketing of its product was effected either independently 
in the Soviet market or through intermediaries. Goods 
produced by sections using forced labor and sold in the 
home market were often stamped with their trademark. 
As I have said, the trademark of the Solovetzki camp was 
an elephant. Dealings with foreign markets were, of course, 
handled through the Gostorg (State Trade Commissariat) 
and sometimes even through a second intermediary, in 
order better to conceal the origin of the goods. The Sec- 
tion of Fisheries, the Ribprom, in which I worked, had a 
canning factory, a fish-smoking factory, a shop for construc- 
tion and repair of ships, a net factory and over twenty 
fisheries scattered along the shores of Onega and Kanda- 
laksha bays of the White Sea, on the Solovetzki Islands and 
on the Murman coast of the Arctic Ocean. 

The sections were unified by and subordinated to the 
administration of the camp which regulated, combined 
and controlled their activity. The result was a very un- 
wieldy and complicated bureaucratic body entirely un- 
necessary from the point of view of production efficiency. 
Furthermore, in Moscow there was a central organization 
independent of the camp administrations, for the combin- 
ing, regulating and controlling of the activities of camp 
sections, composed of specialists in various fields of indus- 


try. Each specialist was in charge of one branch of indus- 
trial activity in all the camps. Thus, for instance, a certain 
Bikson was managing the fishing industry at the Moscow 
GPU. He was a former fish merchant, had been deported 
to the Solovetzki camp and finally had entered the service 
of the GPU. 

In this way the section had two masters: the administra- 
tion of the camp and the council of specialists in Moscow. 
Both took every opportunity to meddle in the economic 
life of the section, although all the responsibility for the 
work remained with the section itself. Such a system of 
dual subordination is characteristic of all Soviet enterprises 
and those of the GPU were no exception. 

Like all other Soviet enterprises the camp sections for- 
mulated yearly and five-year plans, which were combined, 
along one line, into the general plan of the particular camp, 
and along another line, into the general plan for the given 
branch of industry by the GPU. There is no doubt that 
these plans were finally included in the Piatiletka. The 
industrial enterprises of the GPU, based on slave labor of 
prisoners, are growing from year to year and becoming a 
factor of decisive importance in the general economic ac- 
tivity of the U.S.S.R. 

The concentration camps, therefore, are actually enor- 
mous enterprises operating in the same field with similar 
" free " Soviet State institutions. The management of the 
former is concentrated in the GPU, of the latter, in various 
commissariats. In many cases the scale of the work carried 
on by the GPU is larger than that of the corresponding 
Soviet institutions; it is quite probable, for instance, that 
the GPU lumber operations exceed those of free lumber 
" trusts." Communication construction has almost entirely 
passed into the hands of the GPU, and entire camps with 
hundreds of thousands of slaves are engaged in these works 
the White Sea-Baltic Canal, the Moscow- Volga Rivers 


Canal, the Sizran and Koungour railroads and the gigantic 
Bamlag, Baikal-Amour railroad development. It would 
seem that the planned economy, proclaimed by the Soviets, 
would have precluded the existence on such a grand scale, 
of an industrial organization paralleling the state indus- 
try, but the point is that the GPU in the U.S.S.R. is not 
simply a state institution, it is actually a state within a state. 
The GPU has its own troops, its own navy, millions of 
its own subjects (the prisoners in camps) , its own territory 
where Soviet authority and laws do not function. The GPU 
issues its own currency, forbids its subjects to use So- 
viet currency and does not accept it in its stores. The 
GPU proclaims its own laws for its subjects, has its own 
jurisdiction and prisons. It is not surprising, therefore, 
that it maintains its own industry, parallel to Soviet in- 

There can be no exact comparison between GPU and 
State enterprises because the former have peculiar features 
differentiating them from all other business ventures, 
whether Soviet or not. They deserve the attention of 

As I continued my studies of the Fisheries Section I was 
struck by several of these unique features which it revealed. 
The invested capital was negligible, the cost of production 
unusually low, and the profits enormous. With a catch of 
700 tons, and the purchase of a similar quantity from fisher- 
men, a total of 1400 tons the Ribprom had earned 
in 1930 a net profit of one million roubles. Compare this 
with the record of the North State Fishing Trust which in 
1928, with a catch of 48,000 tons, earned a profit of less 
than one million roubles. 

All the production buildings of this enterprise con- 
sidered as part of the invested capital were nothing but 
barracks of a temporary type. The largest establishments 
the canning, fish-smoking and net factories were 


housed in large barns on the verge of collapse. The equip- 
ment was primitive; at the canning factory, for instance, 
there was neither running water nor fresh water; sea water 
was used. At most of the fisheries the salting was carried 
on in the open as no buildings were available. There was 
no refrigeration of any kind not even ice-cellars. Mech- 
anization of work was entirely absent everything was 
done by hand. 

In consequence, depreciation of invested capital plays 
almost no part in the computation of costs. In this respect 
all enterprises of camps, even those engaged in such com- 
plicated works as the construction of the White Sea-Baltic 
Canal, present an extraordinary similarity. All work is 
carried on by hand, not a single building of real capital 
type is erected, all service buildings are constructed as 
cheaply as possible. This is a feature unknown in Soviet 
enterprises, where enormous sums are being spent for 
capital construction and mechanization, often without any 
rhyme or reason except that of " overtaking and outstrip- 

Why this difference? First, the camp enterprises are not 
intended for " show," and second this is the chief reason 
the camps have slave labor. This personnel is actually 
the invested capital of the GPU enterprises; it takes the 
place of expensive equipment and machinery. Machines re- 
quire buildings, care, and fuel of a certain quality and in 
fixed quantity. Not so with these prisoner-slaves. They 
need no care, they can exist in unheated barracks which 
they build themselves. Their fuel ration food can be 
regulated according to circumstances: one kilogram of 
bread can be reduced to 400 grams, sugar can be omitted 
entirely; they work equally well on rotten salted horse or 
camel meat. Finally, the slave is a universal machine; today 
he digs a canal, tomorrow he fells trees, and the next day 
he catches fish. The only requisite is an efficient organiza- 


tion for compelling him to work that is the " specialty " 
of the GPU. 

But that is not all. This invested capital costs nothing 
to obtain as slaves did in capitalistic countries when slavery 
existed; the supply is limitless and there is neither interest 
to pay on funded debts nor any depreciation reserve to be 
set up when the balance sheet is made out. 

And then there is the matter of wages, salaries, social 
insurance, union dues, and so on, all of which may be 
grouped as " labor costs," of vital importance to Soviet 
business. The GPU does not have to worry about these. 
Among the thousands of workmen in a camp section not 
more than a few free hired employees get salaries; the 
remainder work without pay. It is true that the GPU pays 
out premiums to those prisoners who work irreproachably, 
but this represents not more than 3 or 4 per cent of what 
the GPU would have to pay a free worker. And even this 
miserly pay is not in Soviet money, but in GPU scrip. The 
prisoner can buy for it (only in GPU stores) an insignif- 
icant quantity of food which is the waste that otherwise 
could not be sold. Here again the GPU makes money. 

Thus, labor costs cannot be said to influence seriously 
the cost of production in the GPU. The absence of these 
two items of expense depreciation and wages gives 
the GPU a saving of not less than 35 per cent in such a 
venture as the fisheries, and a considerably greater saving 
in works like the construction of the White Sea Canal. 

Moreover, the GPU trademark guarantees an assured 
home market for its goods a Soviet purchaser never 
refuses goods offered him by this " firm," which are sold 
in open violation of trade regulations of the Soviet Gov- 
ernment. A mark-up of 100 to 150 per cent over cost is 
the usual GPU figure according to its own " plans," and 
this mark-up is practically synonymous with "profit" 
whereas the Soviet State enterprises are not allowed a profit 


of more than 8 per cent. Actually the GPU is not content 
with the limit approved in their plans and often sells its 
goods with a mark-up of 200-300 per cent and sometimes 
even more. 

Here is an example. The Section of Fisheries dealt in 
fish which it caught or bought from free fishermen, who 
sold their catch both to the GPU and to other State enter- 
prises (Corporations and Trusts) at fixed prices estab- 
lished by the local executive committee. 1 The Section of 
Fisheries bought frozen herring from the fishermen at the 
fixed price of 10 kopeks the kilogram, delivered to the ware- 
house of the Section, where it would be resold, on the spot, 
to another GPU organization called " Dynamo" for 
i rouble (100 kopeks) the kilogram. The new purchaser 
would cart it to the State Kem Inn, two blocks away, and 
sell it there for 3 roubles (300 kopeks) the kilogram. That 
ended the transaction for the GPU. I might add that the 
State innkeeper, who had nothing to fear from the author- 
ities, would salt it slightly and retail it in his restaurant at 
one rouble a fish. The White Sea herring is small there 
are fifty to sixty in a kilogram so that the consumer was 
buying them at the rate of fifty to sixty roubles the kilo- 
gram, which was 500 to 600 times the fixed price of 10 
kopeks established by Soviet authorities. 

I have already pointed out that the GPU was getting rid 
of its defective merchandise with the greatest ease. Such 
merchandise is the bane of all Soviet enterprises. Worthless 
raw materials, inexperienced labor, complicated machinery 
which nobody can properly handle, extreme haste, unedu- 
cated Communist-managers at the head of enterprises, all 
these factors bring the amount of defective goods to a 
colossal percentage which wrecks all plans and estimates. 

i The sale of fish to private individuals, or at a price higher than the 
one established, is strictly prohibited and is done only secretly and in very 
small quantities. 


In this respect the GPU " businesses " are in a favored 
position compared with their Soviet competitors. Rarely 
would a purchaser dare to claim that the GPU had sent 
him defective goods; he would simply pass them on to the 
indulgent Soviet consumer. And if the goods are so defec- 
tive that even the GPU cannot dispose of them in the open 
market, they are sold, in GPU stores, to prisoners at prices 
often higher than those of regular GPU goods in the open 
market. They are also handed out as a premium for 
" shock " work. The hungry prisoner is happy to get even 

Widely developed graft is another distinctive feature of 
all GPU enterprises, when compared to regular Soviet 
enterprises. Bribes are taken on every occasion and without 
any reason by everybody from the highest Moscow GPU 
officials down to the last hired man of the guard. Graft in 
the inner life of the GPU and their camps has grown such 
deep roots that it has come to be regarded as a natural con- 
dition and the free hired GPU officials openly give and 
accept bribes unashamed. Money in the U.S.S.R. has little, 
or rather only a conventional value. Monetary bribes, as 
such, figure only in fantastic GPU " cases " in which for- 
eign capitalists are supposedly buying Soviet specialists 
with " Soviet currency." Actually it is doubtful if anyone 
in the U.S.S.R. could be tempted by Soviet money. Be that 
as it may, the GPU accepts bribes only in kind, the quality 
and quantity depending upon the particular case and the 
rank and position of the person receiving the bribe. 

The Section of Fisheries used its own products fish 
as bribes. The Moscow GPU Comrade Boki (member of 
the OGPU council, in charge of camps) and his equals 
were given salmon designated for export to England, and 
a special kind of Solovetzki herring marked by four zeros. 
In fact, " four zeros " herring was never placed on the mar- 
ket but was reserved for bribes. The export salmon and 


the " four zeros " herring were also given to the chief of 
the camp and to the chiefs of the investigation department. 
Officials of lesser importance received salmon of inferior 
quality, a box or two of ordinary smoked White Sea her- 
ring; the lower officials a few cans of preserved fish. In 
some cases these bribes were masked by the sending of a 
bill for a ridiculously small amount. 

Whenever a " plan " or a report was to be submitted to 
the camp administration or to Moscow, the necessary prep- 
arations proceeded along two contrasting lines: in the of- 
fices, the prisoner-specialists worked day and night com- 
piling memoranda; in the storeroom, other prisoners 
packed fish in barrels, boxes and baskets this was the 
more important work. The Chief of Section, Simankoff, 
often with both of his assistants, personally supervised the 
packing, inspected the " presents " which were being sent 
to those " higher up," and themselves carefully marked the 
destination of each package. God forbid that an assistant 
should get a larger " present " than a chief. And the prac- 
tice was the same when higher authorities came on an 
official visit. The main concern was to arrange a good re- 
ception and to prepare a pleasing package as a gift. The 
Section of Fisheries was no exception in this respect. All 
sections sent " presents " to the chiefs. The Agricultural 
Section sent hams, butter, and the best vegetables; to local 
authorities it sent cream and to the ladies, flowers. The 
shoe and clothing factories, among whose prisoner-work- 
men were the best tailors and cobblers of Leningrad and 
Moscow, dressed and shod their chiefs and their families, 
while the Handicraft Section made elaborately carved 
boxes for their superiors. 

Such a system of universal graft no doubt adds color to 
the life of GPU officials. 



k-/LAVE labor in its enterprises forces the GPU to main- 
tain in its camps three special organizations unknown in 
regular Soviet concerns: the Military Guard VOHR; 
the Information-Investigation Department ISO; and 
the Cultural-Educational Department KVO. 


The military guard is designed to prevent escapes and 
to pursue fugitives. Organized like an army with headquar- 
ters at the Camp Administration, its troops are attached 
to every section of the camp and detachments are stationed 
at every point, in every sub-camp and district where pris- 
oners may be found. 

The members of the guard wear army uniforms; the 
officers have revolvers, the enlisted men rifles. There are 
no free enlisted men; without exception all are prisoners 
criminal convicts, recruited for the most part from Red 
Army men serving sentences. And but a very few officers 
are free men. Thus it appears that prisoners are guarding 
themselves and the cost of maintenance is very low. 

Their duties and responsibilities are numerous: policing 
the camp, escorting prisoners inside and outside its limits; 
operating the punitive cells at all the points of the camp; 
watching the routes along which fugitives might pass, in- 
cluding sentry duty at all railway stations from Petroza- 
vodsk to Murmansk; inspection of all trains along this 


section of the railroad in order to detect fugitives; the 
training of German shepherd dogs to follow the scent, 
leap at a fugitive, throw him to the ground and seize him 
by the back of his collar. We could watch this training of 
the dogs as we marched past the kennels near the Veguer- 
ashka camp. There was also rifle practice and hand grenade 
instruction for the guards, both of which we could see. 

The VOHR is quartered in special barracks, 100 men 
to a building in which ten times that number of prisoners 
would have been packed. They have cots with sheets and 
blankets, and get better food: one kilo of bread per day, 
sugar, butter and other luxuries. During pursuits of fugi- 
tives they are given special rations: canned beef, butter, 
sugar, biscuits and macaroni; and they receive a premium 
of 10 roubles a head (in GPU scrip) for the recapture of an 
escaped prisoner. 

The VOHR eats well, drinks well and does not lack 
women, especially in the big camps where there are always 
enough women prisoners, thieves and prostitutes from the 
city underworld and many peasant women who are scared 
into cohabitation. (In 1931 at Veguerashka a medical ex- 
amination disclosed the fact that 90% of the guard suffered 
from venereal diseases in an acute form and 10% in a 
chronic form.) At distant points, where there are no 
women, the guard detachment sends for a cook, a washer- 
woman or a charwoman a prisoner who is forced to 
serve them in all respects. 


The Information-Investigation Department with its 
branches in every major camp and section plays the same- 
role inside the camp that the GPU does " outside," but 
perhaps still more mercilessly. The functions of this " GPU 
within the GPU " are the same: undercover spying on the 
prisoners as well as on the free hired Gepeists; secret obser- 


vation of all institutions and enterprises of the camp; in- 
stigated "cases" of "espionage," "wrecking," "counter- 
revolution"; the handling of all cases of " escapes." The 
ISO maintains camp prisons known as " isolators " where 
" confessions " are forced: detention in them is terrible. 

Like the GPU, the ISO has a staff of examining officers 
who also fabricate "cases" against prisoners a careless 
word or the slightest, even involuntary, negligence are 
considered heinous crimes. Sometimes even these pretexts 
are unnecessary, for the ISO can convict a man of " incor- 
rigibility " when the camp authorities decide to get rid of 
an undesirable prisoner. 

Secret lists are kept of all prisoners and none of them 
may be appointed to any work, or transferred to a new 
assignment, without the approval of the ISO which need 
not give its reasons for disapproval. In addition, it conducts 
all searches, censors prisoner correspondence, issues per- 
mits for visitors, and so on. 

The staff of the ISO is not large and, except for the high- 
est offices, is recruited from Gepeists sent to the camp for 
criminal offences. Its secret agents, however, called " SEE- 
SOT " are legion; they permeate all camp activities. It 
strives, by every possible device, to enlist political prison- 
ers for this contingent because they have better education 
and are not so readily suspected of being spies; the number 
of educated men who yield to this temptation is probably 
too small to suit the ISO, but they can be found in every 

The quarters of the ISO are isolated from all other camp 
activities and its staff employees enjoy all possible comfort 
including a " free apartment," choice rations, and the 
services of young educated women from among the politi- 
cal prisoners. In general, the position of young women in 
the camp is pitiable. Resistance to attentions from a free 
hired Gepeist or an employee of the ISO leads to a transfer 


to "general " work in the company of thieves and prosti- 
tutes, where " attentions " may take a still more disgusting 
form; it may also lead to the institution of a " case/' an 
accusation of counter-revolution or " incorrigibility " 
and execution. 


The third organization the Cultural-Educational De- 
partment (KVO) closely corresponds to the ISO and has 
its own corps of agents, officially called " camp correspond- 
ents " (LAGCOR) but regarded by the prisoners as also 

KVO's activity is two-fold: detection and publicity. The 
first, and most important, involves active assistance to the 
ISO in the organization of detection; the majority of KVO 
employees are at the same time secret agents of the ISO, 
and both departments often interchange their members. 
An " educator " who had distinguished himself by a de- 
nunciation is promoted to examining officer while an in- 
competent examining officer, or one who had become a 
drink addict, is demoted to " educator." 

The second field of activity is known as "reeducation " 
or " reforging." Under this mask the GPU camouflages its 
commercial enterprises, representing them as institutions 
designed to reeducate inveterate criminals and reforge 
them into " enthusiasts of Soviet construction/' The 
method is rather primitive. Men unfit for any other kind 
of work are enlisted as " educators/* The chiefs of the KVO 
and of its branches are mostly Chekists who had become 
inveterate drunkards and for whom a position had to be 
found. The prisoners working in the KVO are persons 
quite unfit for any production enterprises; with the excep- 
tion of lecturers, of whom I shall speak later, they are crim- 
inals, former contributors to Soviet newspapers or em- 
ployees of professional unions who had been deported 
for systematic embezzlement or fraud. 


The appropriation for " cultural-educational " work is 
small and most of it is allotted to the publication of the 
camp newspaper; since the work in the printing room is 
done by the prisoners and since they are compelled to buy 
it when they receive any premiums in GPU scrip its pub- 
lication cannot be a heavy financial burden on the GPU. 

This newspaper is a strange thing. An edition appears 
every three days in every camp. The pioneer in the field 
was the " Perekovka " (Reforgery) first published in the 
Solovetzki camp and later transferred to the White Sea- 
Baltic camp; to take its place " Trudovoi Trul" in no way 
different from the "Perekovka'/ was published in the Solo- 
vet/ki camp in the autumn of 1931. 

In the heading " Perekovka," the letter " K " was repre- 
sented as a hammer striking the letter " O," from which 
small fragments and sparks flew in all directions. At the 
top of the sheet were two inscriptions: " Not for circulation 
outside the camp " and " Work in the U.S.S.R. is honor, 
glory, valor and heroism! " 

In outward appearance it looks just like any other pro- 
vincial Soviet paper: the same mottoes, slogans of the day 
and screaming titles. In the text, the same talk about pha- 
lanxes, shock workers, storm columns, enthusiasts, van- 
guard of storm positions, socialistic achievements, fronts 
of proletarian victories, and so on all this enhanced by 
an immoderate use of exclamation marks and titles in the 
imperative, such as: " Stop! " " Accomplish! " " Liq- 
uidate! " " Develop! " " Break! " " Strike! " 

The paper is devoted to camp life; news from the 
U.S.S.R. or the rest of the world is given a very small space 
on the last page, such as the 100-200-300 per cent overful- 
fillment of Soviet plans, or the strikes, famines and crises 
in the outer world. Articles, written by prisoners of the 
editorial staff, sing praises of the authorities or demand 
the disclosure and punishment of those guilty of various 


" breaches in the front." The guilty men are always pris- 
oners. Anonymous denunciations sent from places of work 
appear in a special column headed " Camp correspondents 
write "; this correspondence serves as basis for the framing 
of " cases " against prisoners by the ISO. 

Penniless though we were, and confined behind barbed 
wire, even here we were not free from lies, denunciation 
and the constant threat of some new fantastic and senseless 
accusation. And all of us who were receiving premium com- 
pensation were compelled to subscribe to this paper, al- 
though we had no protection whatsoever from its dirty 

Besides this printed paper, which is edited at the camp 
center, each " point " has its " wall newspaper," with 
hand-written articles composed under the auspices of the 
KVO and appearing five or six times a year in major camps 
and once or twice a year in smaller camps. Not only the 
prisoners, but even the hired Gepeists regard these papers 
with disgust and loathing. 

KVO also manages the mass meetings for prisoners, as 
ordered by headquarters from time to time especially 
on the occasion of a new State bond issue, or the organiza- 
tion of " shock activity " for a new drive against bed bugs. 
Such meetings are held in the workshops after the day's 
work is done. The more formal " general " meetings take 
place outdoors in a space enclosed by a wire fence, within 
which the prisoners, accompanied by guards, are lined up 
in military formation around a platform to await, in freez- 
ing weather, the arrival of the authorities. Then one of 
the chief " educators " delivers his address; in my time 
(1931-32) the favorite subjects were the "intrigues of 
French imperialism," " Communist progress in the Ger- 
man elections," the "victorious march of Communistic 
revolution in China," and " the success of the Piatiletka." 
No doubt other subjects are being used now. 

Speeches about the reeducation of prisoners were less 


frequent and were delivered by radio so as to reach a wider 
public than the convicts who were experiencing the bene- 
fits of this " reforging." An amusing incident occurred once 
at Solovetzki in 1931 in connection with such a speech. 
The senior " educator " was drunk but this fact had been 
discovered too late, and he could not be stopped. The poor 
devil, in his enthusiasm, went beyond all limits of discre- 
tion; but it was the only speech to which the prisoners 
listened with interest and attention. Incidentally, he stated 
that the " camp correspondence " movement (which means 
anonymous denunciation) was growing enormously, that 
already five million " camp correspondents " had been en- 
rolled from among the prisoners . . . here he stopped 
abruptly for no apparent reason and then shouted into the 
microphone his brilliant concluding phrase: " Lenin him- 
self was an honorary camp correspondent." 

Thus it can be seen that prisoners in concentration camps 
not only form the labor force and organize production and 
trade, but also guard against their own escape and pursue 
themselves as fugitives, organize a system for spying on 
themselves, imprison themselves in " isolators," and either 
sentence themselves to execution or " reeducate " and " re- 
forge " themselves. 

At first glance, this would seem incredible. But, if it is 
borne in mind that this system had developed from " camps 
of special designation," whose main purpose extermina- 
tion was being accomplished by the prisoners them- 
selves, the contemporary situation in camps of the new type 
will not seem so extraordinary. It must be remembered that 
the contingent of prisoners is not homogeneous, that by 
cleverly breaking it up into such groups as former Chekists, 
criminals and politicals, by placing these groups under dif- 
ferent conditions of life and work and then inciting them 
against each other, the GPU is able to accomplish anything 
it may desire. 


.HERE is a saying at Solovki that the camp rests upon 
three pillars: foul language, protection and denunciation. 
In this camp, I think, profanity in which I include every 
form of vile speech has reached its highest development. 
It is universally employed, by officials as evidence of 
their power over prisoners, and by prisoners as an ex- 
pression of their contempt for a life of slavery, for all their 
surroundings, and for themselves. 

The subordinate officials, together with the guard and 
the criminal element, delight in using the word " intel- 
lectual " combined with the foulest language imaginable. 
This practice is undoubtedly the result of "cultural-edu- 
cational " work which aims to incite the criminals against 
the politicals and especially against the " intelligentsia "; 
it is a repercussion of the same campaign against the in- 
tellectual class which the Soviet Government has carried 
on for the last fifteen years. 

This attitude is well illustrated by the Solovetzki version 
of "Little Red Riding Hood/' here known as " Shourka 
Tcheruonchik" the very name revealing her status as 
a lady of easy virtue. Wearing a red Komsomol handker- 
chief around her head, she sets out for a party meeting of 
shock workers, but, once outside the confines of the camp, 
she meets a big, gray wolf who, baring his great teeth, asks 
her fiercely: " Where are you going, Red Riding Hood? " 


" Get away from me you intellectual," she replies 

with such a volley of unprintable words that the poor wolf 
runs away in terror. 

Much more important than profanity, however, are the 
other two pillars of Solovki. 

" Protection," meaning, in camp vernacular, the enjoy- 
ment of illegal privileges or preferred treatment, has actu- 
ally been developed into a peculiar system which origi- 
nated in the GPU, whose employees, the Gepeists 
enjoy in full measure the protection of the Soviet Govern- 
ment. A card bearing those three magic letters opens the 
door wide to opportunities for obtaining everything of 
which the millions of working people are deprived. The 
Gepeist may have his " living space " (apartment and wood 
for fuel) , his provisions and clothing, a theatre seat or a 
reservation in a train, all because of this protection and 
according to his relative position and his connections. And 
that is not all. He is not subject to the law of the land; he 
is above it. If he commits a serious crime, such as murder 
or rape, he is not held for trial by an ordinary court, but 
is dealt with in a " home " fashion. If he happens to have 
good connections within the GPU he is likely to get off 
quite free, if not his punishment is reduced to a mini- 
mum, perhaps a transfer to another place of xvork within 
the same GPU. 

In the camps, Gepeists thrive on protection in perhaps 
still greater measure. Their main support is Moscow and 
those who have connections in the Central Administration 
of Camps are fortunate indeed, yet even they need also " in- 
side " camp protection for they are never satisfied with 
their legitimate and generous rations and remittances. 
Since many commissariat positions are held by prisoners, 
these in their turn gain protection with the authorities, 
obtaining from them various privileges, such as the right 
to live in " free" apartments, to be detailed outside the 


boundaries of the camp, or to receive permits for long 
visits from relatives. The life of such favored prisoners dif- 
fers sharply from the existence of regular prisoners peas- 
ants, workmen and specialists. 

Among the regular prisoners, nevertheless, the same 
system is also widely used, but with much less success. The 
Gepeist through protection gets a nice apartment, furni- 
ture, export salmon, fresh caviar, pork, cream, imported 
clothes and perfumes: the regular prisoner can only hope 
to secure a few more centimeters of sleeping space, a chance 
to buy an extra 200 grams of black bread or a package of 
tobacco; and if he gets two or three pieces of sugar, or per- 
mission to take a walk through Kem unaccompanied by a 
guard, he boasts of having great protection. 

Insignificant though they are, these material benefits are 
highly valued and their psychological effect, due solely to 
protection, is significant. The prisoner has a chance to raise 
himself above the gray subordinated mass, to gain at least 
a slight superiority over his fellows. This flatters him and 
introduces a kind of consolation into his cheerless life. For 
that reason he makes no attempt to conceal the fact, as 
would seem natural among comrades, but on the contrary 
in the majority of cases he boasts about it. His reputation 
for having " protection " makes life easier and further 
favors follow. 

Striving to receive and enjoy this " protection," every 
prisoner is equally ready to bestow it. This is perhaps even 
more pleasing to his pride and is often also the result of a 
sincere desire to help others. A chance acquaintance in the 
camp, or work in the same group, or previous confinement 
in the same prison, bind one according to camp traditions 
to extend " protection " at all subsequent meetings. The 
cook will pour a few drops of mineral oil into your kasha, 
the acquaintance in the store will deem it his duty to hand 
you an extra box of matches, and the friend at the ware- 
house will pick out for you a pair of better boots. 


Officially, to be sure, this system of protection is forbid- 
den. All GPU stores of the Solovetzki camp in 1932 dis- 
played two placards: " Nothing is given out through pro- 
tection," and "Protection is buried" to which the 
prisoners invariably added, " but its work lives on," para- 
phrasing the famous broadside: " Lenin is dead but his 
work lives on." 

The most extraordinary case of " protection " I ever 
knew was that of the prisoner Lublinski (not his real 
name) whom I met at the Section of Fisheries. So charac- 
teristic is it of the relationship between the camp Gepeists 
and the proteges that I cannot refrain from describing it. 

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning at the offices 
of the Ribprom. A gentleman came in, wearing a light 
black overcoat and carrying a cane. The overcoat was un- 
buttoned and one could see that under it he had on a well- 
pressed suit, a starched collar and a tie; around his neck a 
silk scarf, and across his waistcoat a watch chain. He had 
enormous horn-rimmed spectacles such as Communists 
who have been abroad affect. His face was ugly: a large 
wide nose, sensual open mouth and protruding ears. He 
took off his gray felt hat and wiped his bald head with a 
clean handkerchief of fine texture. He was about forty 
years old. In my inexperience, I decided that he must be 
some species of Gepeist or official of the Executive Com- 
mittee. But he shook hands with all the prisoners, came 
up to me and introduced himself as " Edward Alexandro- 
vitch Lublinski," and then sitting down on a stool with his 
back to the desk addressed the office manager in a languid 
voice: " Is Vsevolod Arkadievitch (the chief's assistant) 
here? No? Too bad! I have hurried to no purpose; I did 
not even stop to drink my coffee." 

Then stretching himself and yawning, he drawled: I 
would like now to have a cup of hot chocolate with 
whipped cream and a biscuit. Well, there's nothing to be 


done about it, not everything is possible; one has to suffer. 
I will take a walk. I'll go up to the lunchroom and have a 
cup of coffee. Does anyone want anything from the lunch- 
room for free employees? They have excellent little apple 
pies there for 25 kopeks each." 

After collecting money from several men he strode off 
swinging his cane. 

" Who is he? " I asked one of the prisoners, when he 
had gone. 

" A prisoner, just like you and me. Does it astonish you? 
He is a ' protege,' and a swindler. Be careful with him. 
Don't trust any money to him, not a kopek, he'll swindle 
you out of it as easy as anything. He has been caught many 
a time, but always gets out of it. Anyone else would long 
ago have been rotting in the ' isolator ' but this one, you 
see for yourself what a dandy he looks. He is close to the 
authorities; they call him the vilest names to his face but 
he is received in their homes, plays cards with them, gam- 
bles and when necessary loses money to them. He does 
their shopping, goes to the station to meet Gepeists and 
their wives, stands in line for train tickets, runs errands 
for the whole camp administration. It's said that he's an 
expert in arranging for all kinds of perversions to which 
Gepeists are greatly addicted. He lives well, too, better 
than when he was free, has a room in an apartment, takes 
his meals at the lunchroom for free salaried employees and 
gets more premium money than any other prisoner. Offi- 
cially he is assigned to the Section of Fisheries but he does 
no real work. An extraordinary clever rogue but not 
an ' informer.' But remember don't trust him with any 

" But who is he, what was he sent here for? " 

" That's hard to say: everything he tells about himself 
is a lie. He says that he has lived abroad, graduated from 
Oxford, was director of some big company in America. He 


can't even do the work of a bookkeeper here but he cer- 
tainly has other talents. One day we were sitting here, seven 
of us, hungry and very much depressed. We had tried to 
get a quart of milk from the Agricultural Section, but the 
chief refused a permit. Then Lublinski came in and mod- 
estly offered his services; he was just a novice then so we 
explained all about the need of a permit. He insisted, how- 
ever, and went off with a kettle that would hold four quarts 
and he didn't ask for permission to leave the building. 
How we smiled! But very soon he came back and without 
a word put the tea kettle on the table. ' Well, were you 
turned back? You didn't have to wait in line? ' we taunted 
him, but when we picked up the tea kettle it was full of 
milk. Four quarts! ' How did you get it? Who gave it to 
you? ' He only shrugged his shoulders. After that he would 
bring us milk every day. Once one of us followed him to see 
how he did it. Very simple. At the milk department there 
would be a long line of guards, wives and servants, hired 
employees, nurses from the hospital. He would pass his 
tea kettle over the rail out of turn and in a calm voice 
would say: ' Milk, four quarts, for Lublinski.' The man 
serving milk would take the kettle from his hands respect- 
fully and fill it to the brim. Nobody in the line said a word. 
Evidently it never occurred to anyone that this mysterious 
Lublinski was not some important visiting Gepeist." 

As my comrade finished speaking Lublinski himself re- 
appeared on the street walking by the side of the assistant 
chief of the Fisheries Section and nonchalantly swinging 
his cane. The guards saluted and Lublinski answered with 
a slight nod of his head. 

Once inside the office he addressed the chief with inim- 
itable insolence. *' With your permission I have bought 
pies for my comrades in the lunchroom for the hired em- 

" How much does he charge you for the pies? " the chief 


asked us. " 25 kopeks? This scoundrel is profiteering again. 
They cost only 20 kopeks." 

Lublinski's only duty at the Fisheries Section was to ob- 
tain telephone connections with the Section's points located 
outside of Kem; this was no easy task for the service was 
poor, but he accomplished it admirably in this manner: 
4i Operator! Hello! Do you hear who is talking? Do you 
know my voice? Yes, yes, it's Edward Alexandrovitch of 
the OGPU. I need to get Soroka immediately. The line 
is busy? Disconnect the party. You have no right to do it? 
You are going to be responsible for the delay, I have an 
urgent message from the OGPU. Disconnect immediately. 
Thanks. Hello? Soroka? Give me the Fisheries Section. 
It's Lublinski of the OGPU who is talking " and so on. 

He tried this method once too often. The line was busy 
but he proudly broke in: " You should recognize my voice 
yourself." Unfortunately for Lublinski, the Chief of the 
Camp Administration was calling and for this insolence 
Edward Alexandrovitch was ordered to " general duty " at 
a lumber camp, which for the ordinary mortal meant 
death. Not so for him. He contrived, through protection, 
to travel without a guard, in all his finery, including gloves 
and spectacles, and a pile of suitcases. Arriving at the sta- 
tion he demanded horse transportation for himself and 
his luggage, and so, in state, appeared before the Chief of 
the lumber camp, who, assuming him to be a secret in- 
spector, did not dare send him to work, but lodged and 
fed him well. Eventually, someone intervened and he was 
returned to Kem! 

Lublinski is not an exception in the camp there are 
many like him. When Soviet writers picture touching 
scenes of meetings with prisoners in concentration camps 
their eloquent pens are influenced by encounters with 
various Lublinskis, some smaller and some greater, but 
always of the same type. 


The third pillar of Solovki denunciation is based 
upon three independent systems of spying which cover all 
the institutions of the camp, first the secret agents of 
the ISO; second the camp correspondents of the KVO; 
and third, j the " volunteers." According to prisoners 
with whom I talked and who had been in the camp many 
years, the ISO drafts its secret agents precisely as the GPU 
does " outside," selecting a victim suitable as a spy, usually 
a respectable political prisoner with a " bourgeois " past. 
He is promised a reduction of term, and if he refuses, is 
threatened with the initiation of a new case against him 
or the arrest of his relatives. His function is to " inform " 
about questions of general importance: the frame of mind 
of prisoners, the work of camp's institutions, the instances 
of " wrecking," and so on. He must inform not only against 
prisoners but also against free salaried Gepeists. By pure 
chance, the report of one such agent, included in some busi- 
ness correspondence, fell into my hands. I warned those 
of my comrades who might have been in danger, but did 
not speak about it to the " agent " himself. It was better not 
to expose him for he was less of a menace now that we 
knew him. 

Besides these regular agents, there are alwavs prisoners 
who are ready, if opportunity offers, to inform against other 
prisoners in the hope of bettering their own lot. Some of 
them are afraid of being accused of " failing to inform." 
Denunciations regarding preparations for escape are espe- 
cially frequent and dangerous. 

In the autumn of 1931 such a false denunciation nearly 
caused the death of an innocent man. The Section of Fish- 
eries was sending small motor boats from the White Sea 
to Murmansk to catch herring; crews and captains were 
prisoners. When one of the boats entered a harbor to take 
on fresh water, the crew fell upon their captain, bound 
him and, summoning the GPU coast guard boat from Mur- 


mansk by telephone, gave him up, testifying that he had 
urged them to take advantage of the sea voyage to escape. 
The captain's situation was hopeless although the absurdity 
of the accusation was apparent. The captain had already 
been in camp eight years, had been out to sea many times, 
and had only a few days left to serve before the end of his 
term. Nevertheless he was kept in the " isolator " under 
the most trying conditions and his execution was delayed 
only because individual members of the crew had con- 
tradicted each other. For half a year he defended himself 
with exceptional courage and coolness, until finally he 
was set free an event which was regarded as a miracle. 
But it was typical of the GPU that his accusers were not 
punished, in spite of the falseness of their denunciation. 

The second spy system is operated by the KVO, the 
educational department, through its so-called " camp cor- 
respondents," already referred to, who, writing anony- 
mously, supply information against prisoners. This is 
considered as " social work " and for this activity they are 
enlisted in the ranks of shock workers and receive various 
privileges. Their identity is quickly discovered in small 
camps, however, and then their position is not enviable; 
the prisoners, as well as the camp authorities, do every- 
thing in their power to have the correspondent removed 
to some other point and then warn his co-workers of his 
pleasing occupation. 

The third category of informers is the most numerous 
and annoying, although possibly least dangerous. They are 
the so-called " volunteers," who try to gain protection trom 
the authorities by informing about minor violations of 
camp regulations. Everything is reported: who spoke dis- 
respectfully of the authorities, who is not sufficiently dili- 
gent in his work, who procured vodka, who had a conver- 
sation with a " free " person and so on. 


Foul language, protection and denunciation are organ- 
ically connected with the GPU system and reflect its 
moral level: they are the inner pillars of the GPU camp, 
the basis of that " industrious education " and " reforging " 
whose praises are being sung today by Soviet writers. 




HE attitude of prisoners towards forced labor is ade- 
quately expressed by one of their favorite maxims: "the 
term goes on." Whether one works diligently or loafs, 
whether the task is well or poorly done, time takes its 
course and the term of sentence comes to an end. This 
attitude is no secret to the GPU which has developed its 
own " methods of compulsion/' 

Until 1930, in "camps of special designation" these 
measures were very simple: prisoners were given assign- 
ments and those who did not fulfill them were starved, 
beaten, tortured, killed. Now in the " industrious correc- 
tion " camps these methods are of a more varied nature, 
but the use of physical force still persists. For example, 
wherever the nature of the work permits, daily assignments 
are still given out and the penalty for non-fulfillment is 
a reduction of food rations. The basic food is black bread; 
at heavy physical jobs the prisoner gets 800 grams per day. 
If he does not accomplish his assignment, his bread ration 
is reduced to 500 grams or even 300 grams, depending upon 
the percentage of the unaccomplished work. A daily ration 
of 300 grams of bread, in work of this sort, when the rest 
of the food has no nourishment, approaches starvation, 
and so the first means of compulsion remains as before 
hunger. If this does not succeed, the prisoner is kept all 
night long in a punitive cell under frightful conditions; in 
the daytime he is led out to work. The next step is transfer 


to the " isolator " as an " incorrigible." I never was in the 
isolator myself, but I have observed prisoners being led 
from these isolators under heavy guard; mere shadows they 
seemed no longer men. 

For specialists and office workers, the first method of 
compulsion is " general work " hard labor; the next 
measure is an accusation of wrecking and confinement in 
the isolator where the offender stays, usually, until he is 

Other means of compulsion are more subtle. Prisoners 
who accomplish their assignment are given " premium 
compensation" in special GPU scrip manual laborers 
3 to 4 roubles a month, specialists of exceptional qualifica- 
tion up to 25 and even 35 roubles. With this money they 
can buy " premium products," in the GPU stores only, 
from a list which changes every month. The quality of the 
products is getting worse every year. In 1 93 1 one could buy, 
during a month, about 200 grams of sugar, 100 grams of 
biscuits, 2 to 3 packages of low grade tobacco, 2 to 3 boxes 
of matches, and sometimes 200 grams of melted lard; in 
1932 sugar, biscuits and lard were omitted from the list. 
Furthermore, the prisoner could purchase on his premium 
card 200 extra grams of bread per day, but even this extra 
ration highly valued by the prisoners could not be 
relied upon since the stores were very often short of bread. 
However small this premium compensation might be, it 
was a powerful incentive to hungry prisoners. 

There were far stronger inducements, however, which 
cost the GPU nothing. First of all the visit. If for half a 
year the prisoner had irreproachably accomplished his 
work, he might obtain permission for his closest relative 
to see him at the camp. Visits are of two kinds: " on gen- 
eral grounds " and " personal." If " on general grounds " 
they take place at the camp commandant's building, in 
the presence of the officer on duty, and last not longer than 


two hours a day for one to three or four days. They differ 
but little from those in prison: in a narrow dirty corridor 
full of officials, the prisoner sits down on a bench beside 
his wife or mother. With the constant barking of the super- 
visors " Talk louder! Don't whisper! No remittances! " 
such interviews are not cheerful. It is for this that the 
prisoner has worked to the point of exhaustion for six long 

The " personal " visit is the dream of every prisoner. 
Then he is allowed to live in a " free " apartment, that is, 
in a room or corner of a room which the relative who came 
to see him has to find and rent. If the prisoner is in a camp 
within whose limits there are no villages or free inhabitants 
a corner of the barracks is reserved; at Solovki there is a 
special room so set apart. The prisoner is not exempt from 
work, so that he can see his relatives only during the dinner 
recess and at night. In spite of these limitations a " per- 
sonal " visit is regarded as a great privilege; to gain it a 
man will go to the limit of his endurance, although such 
a visit lasts but three or four days and is granted only to 
those who have strong " protection " in the administration 
of camps. 

But the lure of " visits " was not sufficient, because there 
are so many prisoners whose relatives are penniless, im- 
prisoned or in exile. The inventive genius of the Chekists 
devised another method, a new ''privilege" which the 
GPU announced with pomp and ceremony in the summer 
of 1931. Prisoners must be made to realize that this was no 
mere routine order but a real event, an unprecedented 
instance of special clemency as explained by a high 
official who addressed them at a meeting. Prisoners who 
had an unblemished record for behavior and accomplish- 
ment of assignments would be granted a reduction in the 
term of their sentence, as follows: every three working days 
could be counted as four days of the sentence. Those who 


would enlist in " shock brigades," i.e., exceed their quotas 
and also demonstrate their political reliability by active 
participation in the social work, could have two working 
days counted as three. Thus a prisoner who had irreproach- 
ably accomplished his daily assignments during three years 
was considered as having served four years of his sentence; 
if, in addition to this, he had been a " shock worker," his 
two years of work counted as three years of his sentence. 
These reductions of sentences were to be computed three 
times a year and the order itself would take effect on 
August first, 1931. 

The " educators " responded on behalf of the multitudes 
of silent prisoners, voicing their gratitude to the benevolent 
GPU and promising in return that they would give all 
their efforts to the "reforging " of themselves and to striv- 
ing for the " overfulfillment of plans " and so on. Mean- 
while, we stood in line and listened, some believing, others 
doubting, but all wondering what real purpose was con- 
cealed behind the words of this new order. 

It was very soon followed by " technical interpretations." 
Persons who had been deprived of their rights before the 
arrest, former merchants, the clergy and other " non-pro- 
ductive elements" could have four working days counted 
as five, but could not join the " shock brigades." Further- 
more this reduction of the term was not to be automatic 
and equal for everybody, but would be granted only by 
special commissions which could deny it even to the most 
conscientious workers if they were found deficient in 
" social activity " or " proletarian psychology." 

Such interpretations somewhat weakened the appeal of 
the order to the prisoners but in general it had the desired 
effect because freedom is the goal of every captive. " When 
is the day? " is the first question asked in camp. Every hard 
monotonous day has its significance; it brings nearer the 
hour of liberation " the term goes on." And so the pris- 


oner, however skeptical he may be, is ready to believe any 
rumor if only it gives him a hope of earlier freedom. Life 
in camp would be impossible without hope. 

The new order strengthened that hope. A man whose 
term was five years, and who had already served two, would 
do everything in his power to be admitted to " shock brig- 
ades " and so reduce the remaining three years to two. A 
whole year saved! Freedom suddenly seemed so real and 
close at hand. It was as if he had grown a year younger. 
He did not stop to reason that in those " shock brigades " 
he might be digging his own grave, not paving the road 
to freedom. Hardly anyone could resist the temptation of 
the dream. 

I was one of the few pessimists, perhaps chiefly because 
I did not wish even to think that I might stay in camp until 
the end of my term. The pessimists insisted that the GPU 
could never be trusted to keep its promises, at any rate to 
political prisoners, and that the terms of our sentences 
were so long that the GPU would change its policies more 
than once. But even if the decree remained in force (hav- 
ing proved its effectiveness as a means of compulsion) , 
why think about it at all when everyone well knew how 
the GPU had treated those whose terms had come to an 
end? If their sentences had been imposed by a court 
not by the GPU they were freed on time, as in the case 
of criminals (such as murderers, swindlers, professional 
thieves) . These made up no more than 10% of the prisoner 
personnel. The great mass of convicts the remaining 
90% had dreamed their dreams of liberation on "the 
day," and then what happened? 

Let me describe such a " release "; I had watched it more 
than once. The prisoner's term had reached its end. His 
comrades gathered around him, chaffing him in a friendly 
way about his impatience and his timid plans for a free 
life. Trying to conceal his emotion he would go to the 


Registration Department and, with sinking heart, approach 
the window marked " Discharges," there to stand until the 
tired prisoner-clerk found his papers in the files. " The 
reply about your case has not yet been received; come again 
in a month." A second month would pass, and then a third 
sometimes a year. And still he remained a convict, 
driven to work, threatened with the punitive cell and 
isolator. At last his " papers " would arrive and, very often, 
with them a new sentence. There were but three alterna- 
tives for political prisoners who had finished serving their 
terms: (i) a new term in the concentration camp; (2) 
exile to a far-distant village in the extreme North; (3) 
in very rare cases, " minus 6 " or " minus 12," which meant 
that the prisoner could himself choose the place of his exile 
in the U.S.S.R. with the exclusion of six or twelve larger 
cities and towns and their adjacent districts. All the border 
regions were likewise excluded such as the whole of 
Karelia, Murman, the Caucasus, the Crimea and so forth, 
so that in the vast expanse of the Union not many places 
were left to choose, particularly for a man trained in some 
definite and narrow specialty. 

I remember well the tragedy of Gamid, the messenger in 
the Fisheries Section, who had come from Trans-Caucasia 
and spoke Russian badly. He was exceptionally honest and 
diligent in his work, bearing his imprisonment with a truly 
Eastern fatalism and an exceptional gentleness. Everybody 
at the Ribprom loved him and joked about his queer Rus- 
sian and his unsuccessful efforts to improve it. As the ex- 
piration of his term approached he was in a fever of excite- 
ment. On the great day, he took from the little box he had 
brought from home a clean silk shirt, a Caucasian belt and 
well-shined high boots; during all the years of his imprison- 
ment he had never shown them to anybody. Early in the 
morning he reported to the Registration Department. He 
returned in tears. His " release " proved to be only another 


sentence three years of exile in the Archangel District, 
which to poor Gamid, a southerner whose health had al- 
ready been affected by the north, might prove a greater 
tragedy than his first deportation to the concentration 
camp. He took leave of us as if departing for his grave. 

With such incidents in mind why should we work to win 
a reduction of term as promised by the new order of 1931? 

This attitude the GPU understood and therefore, be- 
ginning with the summer of 1931, prisoners began to get 
releases after but short delays of a few days or at most a few 
weeks. And they were " complete " discharges instead of 
additional terms of exile. The prisoner was given his docu- 
ments and could choose without restrictions the place of 
his future residence. And this was not all: the camp paid 
his railroad fare from the camp to the town he had chosen. 

The first releases of this kind produced a great impres- 
sion. The most inveterate pessimists were ready to believe 
that the GPU was actually changing its policy, while the 
prisoners themselves were overwhelmed. Some even felt 
embarrassed when they returned from the Registration De- 
partment with a complete release: how could they tell their 
comrades, for a release had heretofore been given only as a 
reward for denunciations. Soon, however, such discharges 
became the normal thing and political prisoners began to 
leave even for Leningrad and Moscow. Our spirits rose: 
the hope of freedom was being realized and for its sake men 
were ready to work until they dropped. 

Not a month had passed, however, before ugly rumors 
began to spread about the camp: that released prisoners 
had hardly reached their homes before they had been ar- 
rested again without accusation and had been deported to 
some other concentration camp or exiled to northern 
provinces. Confirmation of these rumors followed soon. 
About two months after the release of B., my neighbor of 
the barracks in Veguerashka, the wife of one of the prison- 


ers came for a visit to Kem. She knew B. in Leningrad very 
well and told of his fate. He had safely returned to his wife 
and son in Leningrad, where he obtained work and was 
happy. After a few weeks, a soldier came one day to his 
apartment and presented a summons to the police station. 
B. had gone there without taking anything with him, con- 
fident that he had been sent for just to straighten out some 
formalities regarding his papers. But he did not return 
from the police station and his wife had found him a few 
days later in the Nijegorodskaya Street prison, a transient 
prison of the GPU. A week later he had been deported 
directly from there to the northern part of the Archangel 
district and no accusation had been formulated against 

Still more convincing was the somewhat later case of 
one of our co-workers in the Ribprom who, as a reward 
for exemplary work and behavior, had been discharged 
under the provisions of the new " order " before the ex- 
piration of his term. A month after his " complete " release 
we received a note from him: "I am in Veguerashka in a 
barracks with criminals; I am going to be sent to 'general 
work '; help me to get back to the Fisheries Section" 
Through the Registration Department we learned that he 
had been given a new three years' term in a concentration 
camp. No new accusation had been made against him but 
a slip of paper had been added to his papers in the files as 
follows: " Excerpt from the minutes of the meeting of the 
OGPU council. Case of N. who had completed his three 
years' sentence in the concentration camp. Decision: ex- 
tend his term for ? more years." 

And so the prisoners in the camp were convinced, as 
these cases multiplied from day to day, that the " complete 
release " was but another GPU trick. Depression followed 
this conviction, more intense, I believe, than their former 
rejoicing, and they returned to that old attitude " the 


term goes on " under which they might at least preserve 
the last remnants of their strength. 

But the GPU did not stop there. Knowing the weakness 
of prisoners for any kind of rumors of amnesty, it began 
again to let them spread. 

It must be remembered that every political prisoner has, 
at the bottom of his heart, the faint hope that politics will 
take a new course, that the senseless accusation against him 
will be rescinded and that he will return to normal work. 
This hope has some justification; individual prisoners were 
sometimes freed for no apparent reason. In my time several 
prominent engineers who had been deported in 1931 to 
the Solovetzki camp with long sentences were suddenly 
freed. In the autumn of 1931, during one of the disputes 
with Japan, no less than twenty officers who had formerly 
served in the Red Navy were released. All such cases were 
heatedly discussed by prisoners and accepted as indications 
that their turn might also come. The Gepeists periodically 
spread rumors of amnesty in connection with some big 
undertaking. 1 In the Fisheries Section, for instance, rumors 

i I ought to mention here the famous case of " amnesty " granted upon 
the completion of the White Sea-Baltic Canal (begun in December, 1931) 

a case loudly proclaimed throughout the world by the GPU and the 
Soviet Government. At the beginning of this gigantic operation there 
were rumors of an amnesty for the two hundred thousand to three hun- 
dred thousand prisoners assembled at a special camp foi that undertaking. 
In the autumn of 1932 the Soviet newspapers announced that the work 
was not yet done. On January i, 1933 the order granting a reduction of 
term for blameless work (to which I have already referred) was repealed 

the prisoners who had created this miracle of engineering with their 
own bare hands were cheated because the repeal was retroactive. Then 
came, in the summer of 1933, the transfer of 85,000 of them, a majority, 
to a new camp for the construction of the Moscow-Volga Canal. Some new 
stimulus was needed to arouse enthusiasm for work among those that re- 
mained to finish the White Sea Canal. At that moment, August i, 1933, the 
GPU proclaimed its " amnesty "; some of the workers were freed, the others 
actually had their terms reduced a total of about 70,000 in these two 
classes. Obviously there was no real amnesty; it was only as if the repealed 
decree had been restored. In effect, therefore, only one-fourth of the total 
number of prisoners originally working at the White Sea-Baltic Sea camp 
were benefited by this amnesty. 


always circulated that in case of a good catch and the ful- 
fillment of the Plan those who had worked " hardest " 
would be freed. More than once I observed how the au- 
thorities stimulated such rumors, for example, when fish- 
ermen were sent to catch the herring that appeared unex- 
pectedly on the barren Murman Coast. There, beyond the 
Arctic Circle, they lived and labored, without sparing them- 
selves, through the autumn and winter of 1931-32. Badly 
clothed and poorly shod, with rotting tents for shelter, 
mildewed bread arid herring for food, they brought in a 
thousand tons of fish but not a man was freed. 

All these things which I learned about the system of the 
camp and the treatment of prisoners by the GPU served 
but to strengthen my determination to escape. So obsessed 
was I with this idea that when the " International " was 
sung, I could hear only one line of it, and repeat every word 
of that line with keenest pleasure and without risk: 

" We will gain freedom by our own hand." 




.o pave the way for my escape I determined to find sub- 
jects for experimental work that would justify the Rib- 
prom administrators in sending me out on an extended 
mission into the wildest parts of the northern region of 
the camps, where many small stations of the Fisheries 
Section were scattered and where supervision could not 
be rigid. 

The only man who travelled around, visiting these sta- 
tions was the Chief of the Ribprom, S. T. Simankoff, a 
cunning fisherman turned Communist who, though not an 
" old Chekist," had assured himself a Soviet bureaucratic 
career in the wild province of Karelia. When the GPU 
was organizing the Fisheries Section in Kem, not a single 
Gepeist could be found who knew anything about the fish- 
ing business. Simankoff, then president of the regional 
executive committee, representing the local authorities, 
was enlisted in the GPU. Clothed in a long Gepeists' top- 
coat, patent leather high boots with spurs, a red star on his 
cap and the insignia of a general on his coat lapel, the new 
chief was complete. The title of Chief of Camp Section 
gave him a multitude of material advantages. 

To him I suggested that I be sent, before winter set in, 
to inspect and report upon all the fishing grounds and the 
Ribprom stations or points, working out at the same time 
the possible organization of new kinds of fishing activities 


such as, for instance, the utilization of fish waste as well 
as of unmarketable fish. A new expansion of the business 
ought to tempt them, I thought. I planned to make the 
survey by using a small row-boat which would make it 
possible for me to go ashore at any desired spot. 

In the " plan for my work in 1931 " I intentionally did 
not indicate the exact region of research work, although 
it was obvious that a survey of all the stations of the Rib- 
prom in one summer was 'impossible it would have 
meant a journey of more than a thousand kilometers 
along the coast line. The points of the Ribprom are located 
in two basic regions: in the north the Kandalaksha Bay. 
in the south the coast of the Onega Bay of the White Sea. 
The latter is 250300 kilometers from the Finnish border, 
while the northern sections of the Kandalaksha Bay were 
only 100 kilometers from Finland. The extreme northern 
section near the village Kandalaksha was mountainous, had 
no roads, and was almost uninhabited from the sea-shore to 
the frontier. On the other hand, the region between the 
Onega Bay and the Finnish border presented a fiat, swampy 
stretch of land with numerous lakes and considerable rivers 
which might have presented obstacles for travel. I was not 
afraid of mountains the range which stretched along the 
Kandalaksha was not over a thousand meters above sea 
level, and I could easily find a way over it. 

But the more firmly I made up my mind to choose the 
northern region the more carefully I must conceal my in- 
terest in it. My program was discussed and condescendingly 
approved, but neither the region nor the day of departure 
had been fixed. 

I was in no hurry myself. In all my enterprise one vital 
question remained indefinite. I had to know the fate of 
my wife. So far as I knew she had no " case " of her own, 
but was still in prison. I was inclined to believe that the 
examining officer was endeavoring to invent a "case" 


against her. I was getting most alarming news from newly 
deported prisoners arriving from Leningrad: many spe- 
cialists from the Hermitage, Russian Museum, Ethnograph- 
ical Museum and others had been deported. My wife had 
worked at the Hermitage and she could well be " added " 
to those deported. 

The cold, rainy June passed, then the clear and warm 
July and August had begun. Not more than a month 
was left suitable for work in those northern regions where 
the snow usually comes early in September and stays 
on the mountains until the next summer. My colleagues 
at the Ribprom were not encouraging. " You won't go any- 
where," insisted some of them. " The authorities always 
have wild ideas! Besides, such a trip depends largely upon 
the ISO. If the ISO considers you a ' special ' prisoner or 
suspects that you intend to escape you won't be allowed 
to leave Kem no matter what your chief does." 

" No," said others, " that isn't it. The ISO may have noth- 
ing against you, but there hasn't been time enough to 
test you you've just come. In this camp attempts to 
escape are generally made during the first year and at the 
earliest opportunity. The first assignment is usually given 
to some place nearby where supervision is good. If the 
prisoner's behavior is satisfactory then he may be sent to a 
more distant point." 

I decided to try for such an assignment to a station 
20 kilometers from Kem where salmon was treated, in the 
village of Podujemie and reached by the Kem-Ukhtin high- 
way leading to the Finnish frontier. Several villages are 
located along this highway with a regular line of communi- 
cation maintained between them by trucks. The highway 
was patrolled by camp Gepeists and frontier guards. The 
distance to the Finnish border was 250 kilometers. 

The authorities risked nothing by letting me go in this 
direction. To assure the ISO that I had no thought of es- 


caping I was telling everybody that my wife was in prison 
and that I had left behind in Leningrad a twelve year old 
son, whose letters to me the only ones I received 
passed through the hands of the ISO. If I escaped alone, 
my dear ones would be left to their mercy. 

Salmon was brought daily from Podujemie by truck to 
Kem for sorting and packing in salt or ice destined for 
" presents " or for export to England through the Gastorg. 
The experts who treated it complained that the percentage 
of defective fish from Podujemie was very high. I inspected 
the loads for several days, determined that this high per- 
centage was due to incorrect and careless killing and han- 
dling of the fish, and prepared a report suggesting a new 
method of killing the salmon. 

Simankoff as a former fisherman became interested. 

" Send me to Podujemie," I offered. " I will demonstrate 
the new method to the fishermen and will teach them how 
it should be done. Your salters can then give their opinion 
about fish killed in this way and I guarantee that none will 
be defective." 

He approved my proposal and two days later my mission 
was officially arranged for. The ISO let me go. Another tiny 
step forward towards my goal. 

On a beautiful summer evening August loth I sat 
beside the chauffeur of a Ford truck going from Kem to 
the west. At our right was the railroad line cutting off 
the coast zone a magic barrier which held me in cap- 
tivity. I would have to cross it some day. To the east of it 
towns, villages, barbed wire entanglements and guards; 
to the west a wild forest, swamps, lakes, with few settle- 
ments and scattered lumber camps. 

The Kem-Ukhtin highway is built through the forest 
above the left bank of the river Kem, one of the most tragic 
enterprises ever undertaken and carried out by the GPU. 
The natives said that the whole 300 kilometers were paved 


with human bones. Like everything in Sovietland not meant 
for display, it was in bad condition; the car swayed and 
rocked, the bridges were already unsafe. The chauffeur had 
a watch (a thing forbidden to ordinary prisoners because 
it might serve as a compass) and by the sign posts we esti- 
mated our speed at 30 kilometers an hour. " Ten hours to 
reach the frontier! "flashed through my mind. But I learned 
from the chauffeur that fuel was issued under rigid control, 
and not more than enough to reach the destination. 

The sun was low and gilded the trunks of trees and the 
open spaces of the coast. I thought of my wife in a solitary 
cell at the Shpalernaya with its foul air and prison stench. 
I felt ashamed of breathing the fresh forest air, of looking 
at the beautiful woodlands. 

At Podujemie we found one GPU guard and one pris- 
oner, who received the salmon from local fishermen and 
sent it to Kem. The prisoner's room, hired by the GPU, in 
a peasant house, served also as an office where fishermen 
were paid. Before his arrest the prisoner had worked for 
the GPU as an informer, but for talking too much had 
been deported for ten years. Nevertheless, to the GPU he 
was one of " themselves " and so I found myself in the 
hands of two trustworthy guards. I had to spend the long 
summer evening with them and gather information, very 
cautiously, about escapes, while pretending to be interested 
in something else. 

Escapes of criminals no longer interested me as they had 
when I was in prison. The criminal risks little, a beating 
at the time of capture, a month in the isolator or an in- 
crease in term of sentence. The political prisoner, however, 
risks everything. Capture means first a terrible beating, 
then the isolator, tortures to force a confession of accom- 
plices who never existed and then a bullet in the back 
of the head. 

The political prisoner, therefore, made his attempt only 


after preparing for it in every possible way, while the crim- 
inal escaped at the first convenient opportunity. The 
guards did not take the escape of criminals very seriously 
and did not exert much effort in pursuing them: they 
would be caught when they came out to the railroad or 
reached a town. But for the pursuit of political prisoners 
posses would be organized at once: sometimes all neighbor- 
ing villages would be mobilized and the frontier guard 
called to assist. The political prisoner always tried to es- 
cape abroad in his fatherland he had no refuge. 

This is what I learned from my guards; it was not en- 
couraging. Attempts to escape were frequent here but sel- 
dom successful. The fugitives were always tempted to 
follow the highway, but this was fatal. It was guarded and 
all settlements along it were connected by telephone and 
telegraph with Kem. If the fugitive kept to the forest 
parallel to the highway the guard could easily get ahead of 
him and bar the way in places well known to them where 
swamps, lakes and rivers were impassable. Besides, through 
the woods, the 300 kilometers to the frontier would be 
increased to 450 and would take more than two weeks; ob- 
taining and carrying a sufficient quantity of food for such 
a long time was impossible. Hunger would force the fugi- 
tive to come out to a village where he would meet the 
Karelian peasants. 

These peasants were the chief danger to be encountered. 
To them the hunting of fugitives was a sport with a 
bounty of one bag of flour for every capture. It was ru- 
mored that every peasant in Podujemie and the other vil- 
lages along the highway had received this bounty at least 
once and some had been rewarded several times. 

The escape discovered, all the neighboring country was 
notified and everyone came out for the hunt. The pursuers 
were well fed, well shod, armed and familiar with the 
countryside; the fugitive was hungry, weakened by life 


in prison and in camp, poorly shod and wandering in a 
strange forest. Nevertheless it was difficult to find him 
there, but after a while, at the end of his strength, he 
would come out in search of something to eat. 

" Here live human beings," he would think, " is it 
possible that they would give me away to torture and 
death? " 

He would be greeted with friendliness and pity, seated 
at the table, fed; provisions would be prepared for him, 
he would be urged to stay longer and rest, and while the 
housewife would be regaling him her little boy would run 
out to fetch the guard. 

Only the other day, my guards told me, the townspeople 
had caught a young peasant who had escaped from the 
Solovetzki camp. He had entered one of the houses on the 
outskirts of the village and had asked for bread. It was 
given to him and he had returned to the forest, only to 
fall into a trap. He began running but was struck down 
by two bullets, brought to the village and locked up in 
a barn. But he was a man of tremendous strength and dur- 
ing the night, in spite of his wounds, he broke down the 
door and made his way out. The escape was soon discovered, 
dogs were set on his trail, he was overtaken, badly beaten, 
bound and again brought back to the village. It was de- 
cided to lock him up in a bathhouse, but as soon as his 
hands were unbound he attacked his torturers, badly in- 
juring two of them. In the meantime the GPU guard had 
arrived. The fugitive was overpowered and hung up to the 
ceiling by his legs. Blood was running from his mouth, he 
could hardly breathe and begged to be taken down. It was 
done only after he had lost consciousness fugitives were 
supposed to be brought back to camp alive. As soon as he 
regained consciousness, he jumped to his feet, picked up 
a stone from the stove and hurled it with such force at the 
guard that it fractured his chest bone. Again he was beaten, 


bound, and tied behind a cart which at once started for 
Kem. When he fell the horse would drag him along the 
road and the guards would kick him. They dragged him 
for three or four kilometers then stopped. The fugitive 
was dead. 

This fearful story, like others similar to it, was narrated 
calmly by my companions to whom the technical details 
of the case were absorbing how the fugitive was caught, 
how he was beaten, but it never seemed to occur to them 
that he was a human being. He was only the object of the 
hunt, who gave them a chance to win a bag of flour and who 
made an impression on them by his obstinate unwilling- 
ness to die. 

Next day I carried out my experiments successfully. The 
fishermen seemed to be interested, but after talking with 
them and seeing them work, I became convinced that they 
would not use my method. The reason for this lay in the 
fact that defective salmon was not officially " bought " from 
them and was left for their own use, while all good fish had 
to be turned in to the Ribprom at a fixed price. For the 
best quality salmon they were paid from 70 kopeks to i 
rouble the kilo, whereas for the defective fish, sold secretly, 
they could get from 10 to 15 roubles the kilo. 

I was brought back to Kem by the same truck late in the 
evening and immediately went to sleep in my bunk. In a 
few minutes I was awakened. In the passage stood the as- 
sistant foreman with some kind of book in his hands. 

What did it mean? Was I being sent away somewhere? 
To the punitive cell? All prisoners have such thoughts 
when unexpectedly called out. 

" Sign for a telegram." 

Hardly controlling my excitement I wrote down my 
name and took the telegram. What could have happened? 

" Returned safely home" signed by my wife. 

There was still happiness in the U.S.S.R. 


The first minute I felt only joy and tremendous relief. 
She has come out of the prison the dream of every pris- 
oner she has seen our son. The boy is no longer alone. 

The telegram had been sent August loth, the day I had 
for the first time left the camp it was a good omen. 

All my plans of escape now changed and became more 
simple. My wife and son were free. It was imperative to 
see them, but according to camp regulations visits are not 
allowed, under the most favorable circumstances, sooner 
than six months after the prisoner's arrival at the camp. 
I could not hope to see my family before November snd 
and then it would be winter. This meant that the escape 
had to be put off until 1932, but then we could escape to- 

I did not sleep all night. Thoughts about the escape 
filled my brain. The terrible crowding, the stench, dirt and 
stuffiness, even the bed bugs, I did not notice. From that 
moment I lived intensively with only this one thought 
escape. The convict's life went on like a dream. What dif- 
ference did it make how this accursed time dragged on. 
There was so much I had to do! Above all, I must regain 
my strength and train myself in walking and rowing. I 
must also complete my prospective trip to the north before 
November and return to Kem for the interview with my 
wife. Then we could talk over the escape. 

The next day I wrote a report. The Rihprom salters 
approved the salmon I had prepared. From the authorities 
I got neither commendation nor reproof. According to my 
colleagues, this was a good sign. 

Two days later the Assistant Chief, Kolossoff, sent for me. 

" How are preparations for your expedition proceed- 
ing? " he asked, pronouncing the word " expedition " with 
a sarcastic inflection. 

" I have prepared everything I could. I can start at any 


" From what point do you intend to begin your survey? " 

I had a strong desire to say " from the north/' but I 
shrugged my shoulders and said in an indifferent voice: 
" It makes no difference; I can begin either from the south 
or the north." 

" The south region is of more interest to us. Begin from 
there. Make a detailed report to the Chief of the Section; 
he is going to send for you. Be ready to leave/* 

This was bad for me. How could I get around them? 
The Chief and his assistants were always in disagreement 
could I not make use of this? 

When Simankoff summoned me, I ended my report 
with the following words: 

" Your assistant gave me the order to begin the survey 
from the southern region/ 7 

" Nonsense, you will go to the north. You are to start 
tomorrow for Kandalaksha." 

Luck was smiling on me. 


.DEFORE starting I had to spend two days collecting docu- 
ments and certificates as follows: (i) a military railroad 
ticket given me by order of the GPU; (2) a certificate 
authorizing me to wear civilian clothes (which would 
otherwise be a crime) ; (3) a certificate written rather 
curtly: " The ichthyologist, prisoner Tchernavin, is des- 
patched to the Northern Section for survey work for 10 
days; " (4) detailed instructions written by me on Ribprom 
paper and signed by Simankoff, providing for a two 
months' trip by row-boat. The contradiction in these last 
two documents was obvious. Camp rules prohibited the 
issuing of such a certificate for more than ten days, after 
which, if necessary it might be extended on the spot, after 
telegraphic communication with Kem. In any locality the 
chief of the guard could detain and return me under guard, 
if I was under suspicion or made an unfavorable impres- 
sion. Finally the chief of the Northern Region in Kan- 
dalaksha had the power to prevent me from going any 
farther, so I carried with me from Simankoff a paper in 
which the latter evidently explained in his own way why I 
should be allowed to proceed on my travels. 

My equipment for work was not very complete: a small 
drawing compass of Soviet make and of such poor quality 
it was impossible to measure anything with it, two iron 
boxes for the collection of fish and a kilo of formalin. Be- 


sides these I had obtained, through " protection," a ruler 
with a scale and a couple of test tubes to convince the 
guards that my work was both serious and scientific. As 
a means of catching fish for specimens and food I was given 
a small draw-net. 

I boarded the train for Kandalaksha at the very last mo- 
ment. The car was overcrowded. Most of the passengers 
were peasants, largely from the Ukraine and Northern Cau- 
casus, with their wives and children and carrying their 
nondescript household goods in bags and small home-made 
trunks. They were dressed in worn-out homespun clothes, 
patched and torn. On their feet they wore bast shoes 
(lapti) . The local fishermen looked at such footwear with 
curiosity; they had only seen it worn by prisoners. The 
children of the travellers were dirty, thin, pale and practi- 
cally naked. This peasant crowd that filled the trains came 
from the North Caucasus and the Ukraine and, after being 
held up for days at dirty stations, were on their way to 
Karelia in search of bread. The proximity of abundant Fin- 
land and the difficulty of guarding this extensive frontier 
forced the Soviet authorities to give a larger bread ration 
in Karelia in order to prevent a mass escape of Karelians 
into Finland. The confiscation of the kulak's property was 
also carried on here with greater caution. Rumors about 
these regions of " plentiful " bread spread speedily over 
the U.S.S.R. and the peasants who had lost their all, where 
formerly there had been abundance, dragged themselves 
to this region of stones and swamps and withered trees, 
hoping to be fed by the rations given out by the State. 

Many of them were contract laborers. There is so great 
a shortage of labor for the great " constructions," such as 
the chemical works of Kandalaksha, the electric power 
plant at Kniaje Bay and others, that these enterprises had 
to send out labor recruiting agents who were promising a 
kilo of bread a day and high boots. The hungry barefoot 


peasants agreed to go anywhere for these things, but once 
in the north, suffering from the cold and finding themselves 
in freezing, lice-infected barracks, they would begin to 
creep homeward. They had received, in general, not even 
the much-desired boots, while all their papers had been 
taken from them by the recruiting agents. Having no 
money to pay for their return fare they became tramps, 
often barefooted and in rags, walking from station to sta- 
tion in search of food. In the official Soviet language this 
was called "the fluidity of labor." One should witness the 
depth of misery of this " labor " in order to understand the 
reason for its " fluidity." 

The crowding, the filth, the crying of hungry children in 
the car was trying even to me a convict. I went out on 
the platform and spoke to a thin peasant dressed in rags. 
He coughed continuously, his face was green and his eyes 
were sunken. Unquestionably he was in the last stages of 
tuberculosis. He had spent three months at his former job, 
but had been cheated at the pay-off and so had started off 
to find another. His wife had died and he was dragging with 
him five children, all hungry, dirty and sick. 

*' I worked for the GPU. I built a house for them at the 
frontier and there I was cheated out of my pay," he began. 

" Where did you build that house? " I asked. 

" Oh, about fifty miles straight west from station X." 

" Was it a large house? " 

" For about fifteen guards." 

" Were you pretty well fed? " 

" Well, they eat well themselves, but they fed us worse 
than their dogs." 

" Do they keep many dogs there? " 

" Three dogs. Believe me, my dear man, those guards 
have everything. They make kasha every day and eat it 
with butter. Their cabbage soup is made with meat, and 
there's so much bread they can't eat it up. And what easy 


work they have! A beat of 15 kilometers and they patrol 
it in pairs. When two return two others start out. Mostly 
they lie around listening to the radio. And then," he 
added, laughing sardonically, " they don't like to go in the 
woods. They're afraid." 

" Afraid of what? " 

" Just imagine, there are two of them, each with a rifle 
and still they are afraid. It is said that there are escaped 
convicts there who will lie in wait for them and kill them." 

" Do they take the dogs with them? " 

" No, I never saw them taking dogs. Perhaps the dogs 
are not trained." 

And so I accidentally learned the location of a new 
frontier post in a region important to me. 

I had travelled often on the Murmansk railway and both 
scenery and stations were familiar to me, but now I looked 
at everything with new eyes. Some day I would plod along 
with a stick and a bundle: a beggar, a runaway convict, but 
free and no longer a slave of the GPU. 

About 15 kilometers before reaching Kandalaksha the 
lay of the land was of particular interest to me. Here the 
railway goes around the northwesterly corner of Kandalak- 
sha Bay, cutting off a deep fiord of this bay which extends 
westerly for about 20 kilometers. If I could begin the es- 
cape by boat up this fiord not only would I save 20 kilo- 
meters of walking, but pursuit would be made more diffi- 
cult since the dogs would have no scent to follow. 

Engrossed in these thoughts I did not notice that we had 
arrived in Kandalaksha. On the platform I met the search- 
ing gaze of guards, both in uniform and plain clothes, on 
duty in the station. I found myself in a place well known 
to me because of former expeditions to the White Sea. 
Below me, along the bay on both shores of the turbulent 
river Niva was spread the old fishing village. The sea was 
calling me, but I had to go up a hill about a kilometer 


to the north where one could see barbed wire, watch 
towers and barracks. At the gate I was stopped by a sentry 
who verified my papers and examined all my belongings, 
even searching my pockets. In the commandant's office 
my documents were again scrutinized and my bags searched. 

Until the spring of 1931 Kandalaksha had been the cen- 
ter of the northerly section of the lumber business of the 
Solovetzki camp around which a number of stations were 
grouped. Now the barracks were practically empty. I had 
to await further formalities, with nothing else to do but 
spend the whole day wandering about the enclosure and 
looking at the mountains and the bay spread below me. 
Far beyond Kanda Bay, which I had tentatively selected 
as the starting point for my escape, rose the naked summit 
of Gremiakha with the purple silhouettes of other moun- 
tains fading into the west. How far away were they? Per- 
haps 50 or 60 kilometers and still the frontier was 
beyond them. Selecting one of the highest peaks I deter- 
mined, with rhe help of a clock hanging in the command- 
ant's office, the direction of the line joining Gremiakha and 
that distant peak. This might be useful to me if I should 
have to escape without watch and compass. Gremiakha 
once reached, I would scale its peak and choose another 
peak on the horizon to the west as the next point to aim for. 

On the third day I received permission to go to the vil- 
lage for an inspection of the pier and the transshipping 
facilities for fish products. I was searched both when I went 
out and when I returned to the camp. On my pass the time 
of my departure and return were noted. I was allowed 
three hours, no more; if I overstayed this time any guard 
could arrest me. What strange conditions for research work, 
when the GPU loves to boast that specialist-prisoners are 
always employed along professional linesl 

A week passed before the chief of the Northern Region 
decided to sign my permit for inspection of the Ribprom 


establishments. Again I was searched, put into a skiff of the 
GPU and taken across the bay to the nearest Ribprom 
station known as " Palkin Bay," on a wooded promontory 
on the Karelian or westerly side of Kandalaksha Bay, not 
far from Palkin Bay which runs inland a considerable dis- 
tance. Here fifty prisoners live in one log barracks. Barbed 
wire and watch towers were lacking and there were only 
two guards to check up on the prisoners morning and eve- 
ning and to organize pursuit in case of an escape. 

The chief means of preventing escape at such camps was 
a detective system among the prisoners themselves by which 
the necessary preparations were discovered; the prisoner 
usually gave himself away by saving provisions or by an un- 
guarded word. Moreover a system of mutual responsibility 
had been introduced recently; if, on a fishing ground, one 
prisoner escaped, the others were considered as accomplices. 

To me these conditions were novel and strange to be 
surrounded, not by barbed wire, but by the forest and the 
sea. Boats lay on the shore. Had it not been for my wife and 
son I might have yielded to temptation and escaped on the 
first day of my arrival. 

Next morning I decided to test the force and weight of 
my documents and my degree of freedom. I went to the 
guard highest in rank, showed him my instructions, on 
which were several seals, and told him that according to 
my orders I would begin my investigations on the follow- 
ing morning at seven and would not return until eight or 
nine in the evening. I talked to him for an hour about the 
usefulness of science and the enormous practical signifi- 
cance of my investigations. He asked several questions 
which showed that he was properly impressed by my learn- 
ing, among them why a blackberry ripened before a bil- 
berry, although they grew next each other. 

"What do you think?" I answered quite seriously. 
" Comrade Lenin at ten years old was clever enough to 


govern a country, while some other chap even at fifteen 
doesn't know how to care for a pig. It's the same with ber- 
ries. They don't come alike." And I suggested that he try 
brewing a " tea " by cooking the berries together and add- 
ing sugar. This pleased him immensely; he would try it the 
next morning and I could go into the woods for the 
whole day. 

I took a basket with me on the following morning, carry- 
ing my test tubes for the benefit of the guards so that they 
might know my intentions were serious and scientific. En- 
tering the forest I followed a path along the shore, wonder- 
ing whether I was being followed. In a thicket I circled and 
came back upon my trail to inspect the footprints, but 
found only my own. I went on in peace, enjoying the quiet 
of the forest. Soon my basket became filled with the caps of 
edible mushrooms. Several times I startled woodcocks, 
black-cocks and partridges feeding on berries. I was so 
overwhelmed with this freedom, the joy of being alone, that 
time, fatigue and hunger passed unnoticed, though my 
strength had been severely undermined by prison and camp 

The sun was in the southwest when I came to rest be- 
side a noisy brook and decided to eat some berries. The 
forest was extremely beautiful; through the trees shone 
the waters of the bay and I could hear the roar of the surf. 
I could have gone on through the woods to the purple 
mountains in the west, but like an obedient slave I " had" 
to return. 

I went back in a roundabout way in order to study the 
country. I scaled a mountainside and climbed its highest 
tree. The bay of Kandalaksha lay before me like a map. 
In the west rose my guidepost, Gremiakha. 

For five days I lived at Palkin Bay, taking walks every 
day. I often met local peasants going out to the fishing 
grounds, waiting for the run of herring. At every oppor- 


tunity I approached them and made inquiries. Near Prolif, 
where the railway passed, I found an old man. 

" Tell me, grandfather," I asked, " I suppose before the 
railway was built the salmon used to run up Kanda Bay? " 

" Why shouldn't it have run up there? " he replied. " At 
the very head of the bay the river Kanda flows in. See," and 
he pointed to Gremiakha, " on one side of it flows a river 
called Kanda and on the other a brook called Gremiakha, 
too. There are also other brooks coming down and the 
salmon went there for fresh water lots of salmon until 
the causeway was built. Now it cannot get through. They 
left an opening under the bridge, but at low tide you can't 
get through even in a rowboat. The salmon tries, however, 
but few succeed." 

" Where does it spawn? " 

" In the Kanda. It goes up the turbulent water into the 

" Is it far to the lake? " 

" Well, about forty versts T from the head of the bay, 
keeping to the northwest of Gremiakha. From there to the 
Finnish frontier it is about fifty versts." 

" It must be hard to go through the forest carrying pro- 
visions," I remarked. 

" We're used to it. There is a path there. We start at 
daybreak, rest and eat at noon, and before the sun reaches 
the north we are there. Sometimes we carry more than 
forty pounds on our backs." 

" It must be hard walking. Aren't there marshes?" I in- 
quired cautiously. 

" You've spoken truly, there are soft places, very soft to 
step on." 

" Tell me, grandfather, is it by that path that they carted 
guns from Finland during the war? " I asked, remembering 
an old story. 

i A Russian measure of length equal to about two-thirds of a mile. 


" Oh! you're all mixed up. It wasn't by this path, but by 
a winter lumbering trail on our side of the frontier about 
forty versts along that lumber trail only Finns live there. 
Also there's a frontier outpost." 

" And what are they watching for, grandfather? " I 

" How do we know? I suppose they try to catch smugglers 
and runaway convicts. There are about fifteen men there." 

" Is it possible that convicts wander there? " 

" We don't know, maybe they do. How could we know? 
Since lumbering stopped, there are few convicts here- 

My inquiry proceeded slowly, but the information col- 
lected was reliable and most valuable to me. I had learned 
from him the location of a second frontier guard post and 
now knew I had to beware of a path which was short and 
clear, but dangerous. 

Since the idea of starting my escape by boat had got firm 
hold of me, I decided to investigate the passage under the 
railroad bridge. I took a boat from the fishing point, pre- 
tending to make soundings, spent a whole day on the water, 
and arrived at the conclusion that for an escape it would 
be necessary to have a boat on the inner side of the bridge. 

I could not get permission to continue my expedition 
alone and had to stay on at Palkin Bay until a suitable com- 
panion was found for me. Thus I was able to make a de- 
tailed study of its surroundings. I could now find my way 
to any place within a radius of 1 5 kilometers either by day or 
by night. About more distant places I gleaned everything 
known to the local peasants. In order to systematize all this 
information I drew maps, which I memorized and then 
destroyed. I came to the definite conclusion that this region 
would be favorable for escape. But how to get my wife and 
son across the border was a hard problem. 

The thought came to me that it might be possible to 


organize a joint escape. The more I thought of it the more 
it appealed to me. My plan would not have to be changed; 
it would only be necessary to arrange the time and place of 
meeting. Success would be more likely if I could escape di- 
rectly from this region and therefore I must invent some- 
thing to interest the Ribprom so that it would send me 
where I desired. I must find pretext for such an assignment 
during my present investigations. Time was flying; it was 
the end of August; frosts would begin in September. 

At length my companion arrived a young university 
graduate who had been sentenced for three years. His term 
was nearly up. At home he had a wife and two small chil- 
dren. He brought with him a pile of documents and also an 
extension of my permit. On the following day we were 
given an old rowboat with four oars and a small primitive 

It is impossible here to describe this unique voyage of 
exploration; two convicts in an open boat, dressed in primi- 
tive clothing, without compass or any other instruments, 
travelling in the autumn on the White Sea, north of the 
Arctic Circle, without a tent or even a piece of canvas for 
protection against the rain. When we arrived at some camp 
point all depended upon the temper of the guard. At times 
we would find ourselves in strict solitary confinement. At 
other times, when overtaken by storms, we would spend 
several nights in the woods like the freest tramps in the 
world. We suffered often from hunger, we were always 
soaking wet and many a time, after a night in the forest, our 
clothes would be coated with ice. There were good days, 
too, when we caught fish in abundance and feasted before 
the fire, devouring fat autumn herring and rosy-meated 
trout. Mushrooms and berries also provided some sus- 

Our boat leaked, and twice we were caught by a fresh 
off-shore wind and only succeeded in reaching the shore 


after a terrific struggle. Nevertheless, we travelled five hun- 
dred kilometers, sounded the fishing grounds off shore and 
made a description of fourteen Ribprom points. We also 
discovered several new species of fish not yet reported from 
the White Sea and, what was of far greater importance to 
me, made observations on the basis of which I would be 
able to suggest to the Ribprom the advisability of a new 
enterprise here, which would give me the chance of carry- 
ing out my plan of escape. 

The second of November I returned to Kem. There I 
found a letter from my wife she had decided to come 
north and attempt to see me. I knew this would be diffi- 
cult, but my trip had made a good impression, not so much 
on account of my official observations as because of the five 
hundred kilometers in a row-boat. My weather-beaten face, 
overgrown with a wild beard, my clothes and shoes in a 
state of complete disintegration, produced an effect upon 
the chief of the Ribprom. He was impressed also by my 
notebook with its daily entries of our activities, plans show- 
ing the location of all fishing grounds and Ribprom points 
with sketches of buildings and structures. It was a real 
guidebook to the region. He could not hide his pleasure, 
and I decided to take advantage of it by presenting to him a 
previously written request for a " personal visit " from my 
wife and son. I was not mistaken, my chiefs were pleased 
and they granted my request for a visit of five days. 

My wife came with our son. I shall not describe our meet- 
ing since my wife has done that in her book. 2 We deter- 
mined to escape together and tentatively made our plan 
for the end of the following summer. We also decided upon 
both the location from which we had to start and the exact 
meeting-place. My wife and son were to reach it on a day 

2 " Escape from the Soviets " by Tatiana Tchcrnavin; New York, E. P. 
Dutton & Co., 1934. 


to be agreed upon; I should then escape, meet them there 
and lead them to the frontier. We arranged a code for our 
letters, all of which were read by the censor of the GPU. 

The five days passed and they departed. I was still a pris- 
oner, but with one solemn purpose during the seven months 
to come: to live, in order that we might be free or, if 
necessary, die together. 



ORTUNE was still smiling on me in the concentration 
camp. Not only had I been allowed to work at my specialty, 
but I had made a long trip away from barbed wire, and had 
seen my wife and boy after only six months of service as a 
convict. Now came another stroke of luck; I was " sold " 
(to use a word commonly accepted by the prisoners as de- 
scriptive of this practice of the GPU) for three months. 

The sale of specialists, widely practiced in concentration 
camps during the period 1928-1930, was discontinued in 
1931, apparently because of an order from the " Centre/' 
due to a campaign abroad against forced labor in the 
ILS.S.R. During my stay at the concentration camp in 1 93 1 
and 1932 the sales of specialists were very rare; I heard of 
only three: the first, a lawyer sold as legal adviser to one of 
the state institutions in Petrozavodsk; the second, K., an- 
other specialist in fish culture; the third myself. 

I had just finished working up the materials collected on 
my trip and writing a report of my survey, when the head 
of the Ribprom sent for me. He explained that the Section 
of Public Education of the Kem Executive Committee was 
organizing a three months' course for responsible adminis- 
trators of fishermen's collective fisheries. Everything was 
ready, the money appropriated and suitable premises pro- 
vided (it was found out later that they consisted of only 
one unheated room) ; even such a complicated problem as 


the feeding of the students had been successfully solved. 
There were thirty-five students, all professional fishermen, 
sent from all over Karelia by their local Soviets. A lecturer 
on political subjects was available, but there was one seri- 
ous flaw there were no lecturers on the main subject of 
the course fishing. Simankoff had a prospectus announc- 
ing the following special courses: (i) The elements of 
hydrology in the Barents and White Seas; (2) The ichthyo- 
fauna of these basins; (3) The hunting of sea-animals; (4) 
New technique of fishing, unknown to local fishermen; 
(5) The elementary preparation of fish products and the 
organization of fishery enterprises. 

All attempts of the Executive Committee to find a lec- 
turer on these special subjects had been unsuccessful. In a 
week's time the students were to arrive and there was no 
one to teach them. Consequently the Executive Committee 
had come to an agreement with the administration of the 
camp to supply some imprisoned specialists. Simankoff was 
asked to select them; he chose a learned specialist, K., serv- 
ing a sentence of ten years as a " wrecker," and me. K. is 
well known in Russia as an excellent lecturer and the au- 
thor of a book on fish products which had gone through 
several editions and had been re-edited by the State 
Publishing Bureau while the author was in prison camp. 
I was to give the first three of the courses and K. the last 

The agreement of " sale " was carefully scrutinized both 
by the representative of the Executive Committee and by 
the legal adviser of the Ribprom, Zelemanoff, formerly as- 
sistant prosecuting attorney of the Leningrad district. It 
was drafted with all the customary refinements of legal 
phraseology and naturally it was of great interest to me 
when I discussed its details with Zelemanoff. Some of the 
salient points were as follows: 


" Kem December 1931" 

"The Administration of the Solovetzki-Kem Correc- 
tional Labor Camps, which hereinafter will be designated 
as USLAG, on the one hand, and the Section of Public 
Education of the Central Executive Committee of the 
Town of Kem, hereinafter referred to as ONO, have agreed 
as follows: " So began this remarkable document, and then 
for two pages followed its various sections: 

". . . USLAG places at the disposal of ONO two pro- 
fessors, the prisoners K., and Tchernavin, who have had 
considerable pedagogic experience, for the purpose of de- 
livering a series of courses (list follows} ." 

". , . USLAG reserves the right to recall either of the 
above-mentioned prisoners at any moment and without 
any warning, but is bound to replace them by other pris- 
oners of similar qualifications." 

". . . ONO agrees to pay USLAG five roubles for every 
lecture hour "... here followed the enumeration of the 
number of hours, dates of payment and so on. 

It will appear strange, no doubt, that K. and I were de- 
lighted with the deal and that all the prisoners, including 
those specialists who worked in the administration of the 
camp and had good " protection," looked upon us with 
envy. We had been sold to a good master. What could 
be better for a prisoner, how could he dream of a better 

We moved from a dirty, cold barracks to a hotel in the 
town of Kem. A room was given to us two, alone. Each had 
a bed. There were two real chairs instead of stools or 
benches and books. In addition we had a small table and 
even a mirror hung on the wall. To cap the climax, we were 
given a key so that we ourselves might lock our room 
we who were accustomed to being locked in by others. 
Moreover, the Executive Committee bound itself to feed 


us and we were given a dinner in the students' lunchroom, 
where, though the food was bad, we sat at a table and ate 
from plates. 

To me the sale was of great importance; for three months 
I would live under more or less decent conditions and be 
able to rest and gather strength. Ahead of me was the or- 
ganization of flight and the escape itself, in which the pos- 
session of physical strength, with steadiness of nerves, was 
a deciding factor. 

Certainly there was plenty of work here. To lecture on 
such diversified and special subjects to such a group of 
students was no easy task in itself. Furthermore, while my 
pupils had little education and some could barely read or 
write, all had had excellent practical training, knew their 
sea, their fish and their fishing as only human beings can 
who have spent their whole life at this work. A slight er- 
ror by the lecturer would be noticed immediately by such 
listeners and would never be forgiven. Besides, half of my 
students were Communists, endowed with a great amount 
of self-conceit, who had gathered bits of information and 
many slogans, the meaning of which they did not under- 
stand. I had come across such students in my work; they 
had done experimental work in my laboratory, refusing to 
study but criticizing my methods of teaching in subjects of 
which they had not even the vaguest notion. In my former 
position I could cope with them, but now, being a prisoner, 
a branded "counter-revolutionist," a "wrecker," how 
could I handle them? 

These thoughts were most disturbing as I went in for my 
opening lecture. After the first hour, however, I found my 
fears unfounded. My students were peasant-fishermen, to- 
tally different from the workmen I had known in Mur- 
mansk who had only drifted into the fisheries, and from the 
Communist students, who had become ichthyologists be- 
cause they had been designated to that branch by the Com- 


munist committee of the university. The men whom I was 
now teaching had grown up to be fishermen like their 
fathers and grandfathers before them, loved the work, and 
were interested in everything that concerned it. Immedi- 
ately I found that we spoke a common language and that 
the oldest and most illiterate as well as the boisterous 
young ones, spoiled by Communist propaganda, listened 
to me attentively, trying not to lose a single word. At first 
I avoided certain topics of hydrology which I thought 
would be tiresome and incomprehensible to them. Soon I 
found that these questions interested them. In explaining 
to them the properties of both salt and fresh water I 
pointed out that their freezing points were different. To 
my great surprise the whole class was extremely impressed 
by this fact. 

" Now we understand why the water from the melted 
snow freezes while we are making holes in the salt water 
ice," some commented. 

My remarks, full of technicalities, about currents, the 
rise and fall of the tide and the history of the White Sea, 
were listened to with the greatest interest. My course on 
ichthyology, however, interested them most of all. They 
asked pointed questions concerning their personal observa- 
tions on the lives and characteristics of fishes and asked 
for help on certain complicated biological problems which 
they could not solve themselves. Thev were much pleased 
when I used the blackboard. I drew from memory a map 
of the White and Barents Seas and each of them tried to 
find on it the islands and bays where he had fished. They 
were particularly impressed with my drawings of fish. 

" Look at that! The cod is just as though it were alive." 

" Look at this salmon! You see its shape has changed; 
it has swallowed fresh water." 

After class they plied me with questions they were too 
timid to ask during the lecture and some of them wrote 


me extensive notes upon the subjects which interested 
them. ^ 

The work with these fishermen was a real pleasure. 
Their attitude was particularly attentive and courteous. 
To them I was a convict and a counter-revolutionist, but 
I never heard a single reference to my status; on the 
contrary they always emphasized their goodwill towards 

I was convinced that such contact with fishermen who 
later would become managers of State fisheries was the 
best kind of influence against the Soviet persecution of 
specialists and intelligentsia and also against the system 
of the GPU with its so-called justice. I believe that the 
majority of my students now know of my escape and are 
in sympathy with me. 

At the end of the course an examination was held in the 
presence of the members of the Executive Committee. The 
examination was a triumph for us. The only member of 
the examining committee who could appreciate the an- 
swers and judge how much had been learned was a woman 
who headed the section of public education and had spent 
two years in a university. The others could understand 
nothing, but were greatly impressed by the fishermen's 

The students and the representatives of the Executive 
Committee thanked us and shook hands. All that was lack- 
ing was a Soviet journalist to describe the touching scene 
of the reformation and reeducation of two counter-revolu- 
tionists (K. and myself) accomplished by the GPU. 

Once again we had to reenter the barbed wire enclosure. 
April was already at hand. The Ribprom had been reor- 
ganized and transferred from Kern to the village of Soroka, 
about sixty kilometers to the south. The day following the 
examination we were sent there. 

The Executive Committee paid the Ribprom the full 


contract price on time. According to the camp regulations 
the GPU had to pay ten per cent of the money earned to 
the prisoners and we should each have received fifty kopeks 
for every hour of lecturing. 
We never received a kopek. 



1 EFORE me now lay the task of concentrating upon some 
one of several projects for new enterprises in the Ribprom 
which would assure me of work in the north at a propitious 
time and thus give me an opportunity to escape by the 
route I had chosen. 

I did not bother much about the technical side of these 
projects, but concerned myself with the impression they 
might make on the GPU the quintessence of Bolshe- 
vism. In order to be successful all my projects had to be 
framed with a view to the peculiar psychology of those who 
were to examine them and the technical side was of minor 

I was convinced that the GPU would search for some 
hidden purpose on my part the desire to escape. I 
wanted to be sent north, to a sparsely inhabited region 
relatively near the frontier. This would naturally arouse 
suspicion; therefore I worked out schemes for the whole 
year, providing work in the north, the south and also in 
the open sea. I counted upon the GPU failing to notice 
that among these I had included one which would allow 
me to be at the place I had chosen for escape and at the 
proper time. This ruse succeeded to perfection. 

I had already developed six new projects, as follows: 
(i) Mussels; (2) Lamprey fishing, not yet developed in 
the White Sea; (3) Salmon fishing in the open sea; (4) 


Deep sea fishing at great depths; (5) Shark fisheries and 
(6) The catching of stickleback for the production of fish- 
meal and fat. 

These I described in the most approved Soviet manner. 
For instance I chose as the heading for Number (i) : " Em- 
ployment of mussels as an essential food diet." This would 
sound familiar and satisfactory to the bureaucratic ear of 
the GPU. I began my exposition from the historical stand- 
point: Mussels had been brought alive to the court of 
Catherine II and had, with difficulty, been transported in 
carts all the way from Murmansk to Petersburg. Then I 
stated their albumen and fat content and caloric value. 
The Bolsheviks like to use words they don't understand 
no project can succeed without such words. 

The next step was to make an " orientative estimate of 
the raw product " also a requisite of every project. In 
capitalistic countries fisheries are organized without first 
calculating how many fish there are in the ocean, not 
so in the U.S.S.R. where there is " planned economy," and 
where they are afraid of catching less than might be caught. 
Such a " non-appreciation of opportunities " would be 
very dangerous. The investigator in the U.S.S.R. finds no 
difficulty in estimating natural wealth on land, on sea or 
under the earth. He takes a square meter in a given area 
where the plant or animal in question is found, counts 
the number of these plants or animals in that square meter 
and then multiplies it by the total number of square meters 
in the whole area. The resulting figure is usually very im- 
pressive in its magnitude! 

After such a " scientific " determination of natural 
wealth one can proceed with the planning of any kind of 
production; he can calculate the cost of a product, the bene- 
fits that will accrue to the citizens of the U.S.S.R., making 
them happier and more prosperous. 

To project Number (6) the manufacture of fish-meal 


from sticklebacks, I gave particular attention because I 
planned to use it as the springboard for my escape. As a 
matter of fact this project had a real foundation and might 
have been successfully carried out to yield a profit. 

The stickleback is a small fish not more than 9 centi- 
meters long, with sharp spikes on its fins. It is widely dis- 
tributed and lives in both fresh and salt water. In the 
White Sea it appears in large quantities, but is considered 
harmful because when caught in nets it prevents the catch- 
ing of other fish. My idea was to use it for making fish-meal, 
as fodder for cattle. An experiment which I had carried 
out gave 3% of oil and a very satisfactory quality of meal. 
I wrote a prospectus based on this information, entitled: 
" The solution of the feed problem in Karelia." 

I submitted my projects to Simankoff. He looked at the 
voluminous material and threw it into a drawer. It was 
necessary to exert some pressure on him to force him to 
put my project on the road to realization. I decided to 
resort to the " public opinion" of the camp. Public opin- 
ion in the U.S.S.R. is represented by appointed officials 
of the state; the press is nothing more than the mouth-piece 
of these officials. Moreover all public organizations are 
closely allied with the GPU. In camp, public life was rep- 
resented by KVO, the Cultural and Educational Depart- 
ment; in its hands was the mouth-piece of public opinion, 
a little newspaper called the " Work Path." I decided to 
use this to make the newspaper and public organizations 
of the camp assist me in my escape. 

While I was under " lease" in Kern I had often met a 
certain comrade Gruzd, the editor of the " Work Path." 
He was also a prisoner, still quite young; a Communist in 
the past and a newspaper man, he had been sent to the 
camp for swindling. Here he was in a privileged position, 
dressed well, lived outside the camp, drank heavily and 
consorted with prostitutes among the prisoners. I offered 


him a series of short articles on the natural wealth of the 
White Sea. The first one I called " Mussels," which Gruzd 
printed under the more picturesque title " Delicacies of 
Catherine II at the service of the Proletariat." 

Other articles on lamprey, shark and stickleback ap- 
peared and had great success. The chief of the camp him- 
self gave favorable attention to the writings of the reformed 
counter-revolutionist. It appeared that he was very fond 
of fried lamprey which he was unable to find in Kern. 
The article on stickleback was favorably commented on 
by the agricultural section, which proposed that the Rib- 
prom finance this enterprise. 

Among the prisoners themselves some were critical and 
said knowingly: " We know what Tchernavin wants by his 
inventions a reduction in his term." In order to make 
my chiefs believe that this was true, I presented my proj- 
ects, through the office of the Ribprom, to the " Commit- 
tee on Inventions," a stillborn institution which exists 
everywhere in Soviet Russia. 

By these means I succeeded in my desire; Simankoff was 
obliged to start my projects moving. He sent for me and 
told me to make the necessary preparations for the produc- 
tion of stickleback meal and the fishing for lamprey. I 
proposed to carry out the catching of stickleback in the 
summer; the fishing for lamprey I put off till autumn,- 
so I centered all my attention on the former and made 
only slight preparation for the latter. I was certain that 
September would find me either in Finland or dead. 

The stickleback gave me much trouble in the organiza- 
tion of its transformation into meal. I was well acquainted 
with the process but I had worked previously on a large 
scale with the help of complicated technical equipment, 
while now I had practically no equipment four old cast- 
iron vats without covers, three kilograms of nails and one 
hundred old bags to be used for filters. The question of 


living quarters for fishermen was not even raised as in 
camp life this was always the last consideration. We had to 
gather all the material on the spot. The lumber had to be 
picked up on the beach and the brick and iron collected 
from abandoned buildings. In other words, we were to 
steal everything we could not otherwise obtain; this is one 
of the firmly established methods of the GPU in building 
and construction work. 

I was given ten fishermen for this work, and two special- 
ists, all prisoners. Under my direction, they were to build 
the necessary equipment, catch the fish and prepare the 
fish-meal, and I was to be responsible for the success ot the 
work. I was granted permission to organize for production 
in two places; in one I intended to produce fish-meal and 
therefore it must be near a fishing ground where I was sure 
to find enough stickleback; the other was chosen solely 
because it was near the point from which I intended to 
start my escape. This place was near Kandalaksha and is 
known as the " Narrows." Unfortunately, as far as I could 
learn, there were iew stickleback near the Narrows, but I 
succeeded in locating plenty of them about 100 kilometers 
to the south oi that point. 

The preliminary work was greatly handicapped by the 
total lack of all necessary materials and also by the severity 
of the prison regime in Soroka. I expected every day to 
receive the order to start for the place of my work. At last 
the chief of the Ribprom called me and explained rather 
ambiguously that, because of the lack of success in the her- 
ring fishing along Onega Bay, the Ribprom had decided 
to fit out a ship to search for herring in the sea and that I 
was to command the expedition. 

" But how about the stickleback? Is that all off? " I asked. 

" Oh, that will get along without you, your assistant will 


In vain I tried to prove to him that the idea was mine, 


that I should carry it out and be responsible for the results. 
I tried also to prove that I would be of no help in rinding 
herring in Onega Bay since that region was entirely un- 
known to me. He insisted, saying that I would be gone for 
only a month and could then resume my work. 

A month! I would miss the first run of stickleback on 
which I particularly counted. They would never prepare 
any meal without me; the Ribprom would be disappointed 
and would close up the whole business; I would never get 
to the north and would not be able to make my escape. 

It was necessary to obey. Let them begin the work with- 
out me perhaps the run of stickleback would be later 
than usual. Besides, I knew those Ribprom boats; it would 
be almost a miracle if one of them could stand the sea for a 
whole month. When I saw how our motor boat was 
equipped I was sure that something would happen to it. 
It had to tow eight large fishing dories and, with its 25- 
horsepower engine, would never be able to buck the first 
fresh sea some dories would be lost, some sunk and we 
would have to return. This comforted me. 

I will not describe our travels about Onega Bay. Twenty- 
five fishermen were housed with me in the cold, damp 
hold, which also contained the nets. Our food was dry 
bread; there were no facilities for cooking. 

We found no herring. On the tenth day the wind rose 
and toward night blew up a storm. The motor began skip- 
ping and the boat made no headway against the wind. 
Finally the motor stopped. The dories battered against the 
boat, some capsized and sank. All night long we tossed 
about the bay. Towards morning we came into the lee of 
an island and found that the boat was so damaged it could 
not go on under its own power. I took a dinghy and rowed 
to the mainland 20 kilometers away where I telephoned 
from the nearest village to Soroka and asked for a tug. 


So ended the herring expedition. Luckily enough several 
other ships had been damaged during that storm, so my 
Chief took the loss of some of the dories rather calmly. 
Simankoff, strangely enough, was in fine spirits. 

" I'll have to send you to your stickleback," he said and 
ordered the office manager to prepare my travel orders to 
the north. " Tomorrow you must leave and now you may 
go to pack." 

Everyone was so accustomed by now to my travels that 
it usually took but a few hours to prepare my papers. This 
time, however, it was different. A day passed and I was not 
called to the office, so I went there myself. 

While I had been away on my trip, all the prisoners 
working in the Ribprom office had been changed. A crim- 
inal, a former Chekist was now office manager. When I 
asked for my papers he laughed ironically and said: 

" They are not ready. Why are you so interested in your 
papers that you have come without being called? " 

I answered that I was not interested in the papers, but 
in the work, and walked out. In the corridor I met Siman- 
koff, who demanded: "Why haven't you left for your 
work? " 

" The papers are not ready," I replied. 

" Why not ready? Send me the office manager." 

The new manager, coming back from the chief's office 
gave me a wicked look. Soon he was followed by the chief 
himself, who passed by my desk, pretending not to see me. 
Something had gone wrong. 

That evening, in the barracks, a prisoner whom I hardly 
knew came up to me and said in a whisper: " The ISO 
doesn't want you to go. On your pass, which Simankoff 
had already signed, Zaleskantz, the ISO chief, wrote ' I do 
not endorse.' You are being watched. Do not go again to 

the office." 

Had I betrayed myself? I carefully reviewed my past 


year in the camp and my every step in preparing escape. 
I knew that I had not broken the first and fundamental 
rule; I had confided in no one, either directly or indirectly. 
I had received letters and packages from my wife regularly 
and had written once a month to her and my son. They 
had come to see me; the ISO could deduce from this that I 
was attached to my family and would not try to run away. 
Could our code have been discovered? No; it was so simple 
and naive that it was entirely safe from detection, and be- 
sides if it had been found out I should have been imme- 
diately put into the " isolator." 

I was no longer the timid prisoner of a year ago look- 
ing in bewilderment and awe at the specialists who ran 
the camp's affairs. By now I well understood the under- 
currents of the camp life. In Kem I could have arranged 
to stir up things against Zaleskantz through the " camp 
publicity," but here in Soroka it was impossible. My only 
hope was in Savitch, chief of the Administrative Depart- 
ment of the Rib prom, an able Chekist who, for some dark 
affair, had served his term at Solovki before rising to high 
positions both in the ISO and the fisheries. When he came 
to the quarters where specialists were working he always 
spoke in a loud, patronizing 1 tone, telling remarkable 
stories about himself. 

" Could I set him against Zaleskantz? " I wondered. 

That very evening he came to our quarters and after 
talking to another man wandered over to me and said: 

" How are your inventions? When do you leave? We are 
waiting for meal, sharks and broiled lamprey. What do 
you call those molluscs of yours? " 

" Don't you know," I answered, " that Zaleskantz has 
cancelled all my work? He wrote with his own hand, ' I do 
not endorse ' on my pass." 

I knew it was a dangerous thing to say, because I was 
not supposed to know these details, but I took the chance 
and made a direct hit. Savitch was aroused. 


" That cannot be," he said reservedly, " the ISO does 
not decide these questions, it only expresses its opinion. 
The man who decides is the chief of the Ribprom." With 
this he turned and left. 

In less than an hour I was called to the office. The man- 
ager handed me a paper and asked me frigidly to sign the 
receipt; the paper was a permit allowing me to go to the 
north for two weeks signed by Savitch. I was glad of this, 
because when the time came for my escape not during 
the next two weeks I \vantecl to have a permit signed by 
Zaleskantz, whom I hated most of all. 



T is hard to describe with what a feeling of relief I 
boarded the train which took me north the following day. 
Now I must show results, produce a large quantity of fish- 
meal and assure the interest of the Ribprom in my enter- 
prise. What would happen if the run of stickleback did 
not come? There were still two months before I had 
planned to escape. 

I decided to go to the point near the Black River 
where there were greater chances for a successful catch. I 
did not want to be continuously under the eyes of the 
guard at the " Narrows." On reaching the point I was 
greeted with good news: the stickleback was already off- 
shore. The day before I arrived a ton of them had been 
caught. The vats were full and the drying oven working. 

At three in the morning I left in a rowboat on a scouting 
trip. The weather was calm and clear. The fish could be 
easily observed through the transparent water. The stickle- 
back was coming in from the sea in a ribbon-like stream 
and was thick along the entire shore. We worked day and 
night for there was continuous sunshine. Even with our 
small nets we could catch a ton in twenty minutes and we 
dried the boiled mass in the open air. I sent enthusiastic 
reports to the Ribprom as well as samples of the oil and 

For two weeks the work went on. The fish still hung 


around the shores of the mainland and the islands in a 
solid mass. With factory facilities enough fish-meal could 
be produced in two or three weeks to feed all the cattle in 
Karelia for a whole winter. 

On June i5th I returned to Soroka. My arrival was a 
real triumph. The Agricultural Section had already sent in 
excellent reports about the meal. I was told that the Rib- 
prom would discuss the question of expanding the stickle- 
back fisheries immediately and that there would soon be a 
special conference at which I had to be present. Meanwhile 
I had to stay in Soroka and wait. 

I decided to waste no time in asking permission for my 
wife and son to come and see me again. My request was 
referred to Kem and the answer came back quickly. The 
Chief of Camp granted permission for a visit to last ten 
days and to take place where I worked. This was a boon I 
had not even dared hope for. The organization of the 
escape was tremendously simplified; the most difficult prob- 
lem to meet at some predetermined place was thus 
solved easily and simply. About forty days still remained 
before the appointed day; I did not have to hurry and 
waited patiently for my chiefs to call the conference. 

It assembled on June 25th; everyone was present, Siman- 
koff and his two assistants, and Zaleskantz of the ISO a 
charming company. I made a brief report, trying chiefly to 
impress them with " possibilities "; the figures aroused 
their appetites. They all spoke, interrupting each other, 
each presenting his own plan to enlarge the business and 
produce a thousand tons of fish-meal without factory equip- 
ment. Zaleskantz "outstripped" them, for he proposed 
feeding stickleback to the prisoners as well as to cattle. 

From this meeting no practical plan resulted, but I was 
ordered to return to my enterprise and to find out the 
best " ways and means " myself, according to existing "pos- 
sibilities." Since Zaleskantz was present and took a lively 


part in the discussion, I was convinced that the ISO would 
not again block my departure. 

In the morning came bad news; reports from both my 
points that the run of fish had ceased. Instructions were 
asked. Simankoff came in about noon, and growled: " Your 
stickleback is a bluff." 

My papers were not prepared and I did not dare inter- 
view anyone that day. By evening the situation became still 
worse a telegram arrived from the Murmansk depart- 
ment of the Ribprom; herring had appeared and men were 

Simankoff sent for me. 

" You are appointed manager of the herring fishery in 
Murmansk. Tomorrow you leave for Murmansk." 

" I cannot take the management of this work," I said 
firmly. I knew that, according to camp regulations, pris- 
oners could not be appointed against their will to mana- 
gerial positions. I knew also that, in the extremely rare 
cases of refusal, even valuable specialists, regardless of their 
health, had been sent immediately to " general work " 
the heaviest kind of hard labor, felling trees, digging 
ditches, or logging. I decided, however, to risk everything. 

" You will go," repeated Simankoff. 

" How about the stickleback meal? " 

" That is nonsense. Have you seen the reports? There is 
no more stickleback, and herring is now more important 
to us." 

" You have kept me here for two weeks in idleness," I 
said in a rage. " There was enough fish to catch forty tons 
a day. While you were thinking, we could easily have made 
five hundred tons. Now the fish has gone. It is not tied up, 
waiting to be caught. Today it is gone, but tomorrow it 
may return. Yesterday you were ready to build stickleback 
traps and today you hear of herring in Murmansk and you 
want to drop everything and pursue herring. By the time I 


arrive in Murmansk the herring will have gone from there, 
and the stickleback returned to my point, and so I will be 
travelling back and forth. Do you want me to catch fish in 
the train? What kind of fishermen are you? I will not go to 
Murmansk. You may send me to general work or put me 
in the punitive cell if you wish." 

He was taken aback. The chiefs here were not used to 
such expressions of opinion, but this man was a former 
fisherman and I hoped my arguments might influence him. 

" I will give you until tomorrow to think it over," he 
replied. " You will go to Murmansk." 

I went to my quarters and sadly brooded over the whole 
situation. Only yesterday I had sent the last letter to my 
wife before our proposed escape. Now there was no time 
to let her know that everything had changed. 

In the morning the Chief greeted me curtly: " Well, 
have you decided to go? " 

" I will not go to Murmansk," I answered firmly. 

Without looking at me he sent a messenger to fetch the 
office manager. I was convinced that he was going to give 
orders for me to be sent to " general work." The manager 
came in. 

" Prepare a permit for Tchernavin to go north to work 
on stickleback." Then, glancing at me: " We expect you 
to produce 500 tons of stickleback. Remember that." 

That evening I received my papers, signed by Zaleskantz, 
as I had hoped. This time I was leaving Soroka forever. 

Late one night I arrived at the " Narrows." The plant 
had been established in the place I had selected, on the 
very shore of the bay. The equipment consisted of a shed 
with holes for windows; inside were kettles and home-made 
presses and the apparatus for drying. 

In the morning I investigated the neighboring waters 
and convinced myself that the stickleback had gone from 


the shore. Small schools of them, however, could be found 
in many places. I talked it all over with the fishermen and 
told them that unless we caught fish during the next few 
days our point would be closed and we would be sent else- 
where. We must, therefore, catch enough to fill the vats at 
least once or twice a day. 

" We'll do it," they assured me heartily. 

As a matter of fact, after much searching and spending 
the whole day passing seaweed and water through our nets 
we had caught about half a ton of fish. The vats were filled 
and the drying apparatus started. I immediately sent back 
a report that the work had been resumed. I was confident 
that under these conditions I could drag the work along for 
the remaining twenty days before the arrival of my wife. 

Now came my last preparations for escape. Most impor- 
tant was a boat which I could use without interrupting the 
daily fishing operations and which I could get under the 
bridge to the westerly side of the bay. I chose a small dory 
which had fallen into disrepair; I dragged it ashore and 
spent my free time mending and caulking it, making oars 
and piecing together small bits of canvas for a sail. I told 
the fishermen I needed this dory on scouting trips in search 
of fish. 

Next I had to verify the information I had collected 
about the paths leading from the westerly end of Kanda 
Bay towards the frontier and the location of houses and 
habitations thereabouts. This would require at least a full 
twenty-four hours absence, managed in such a way that the 
suspicions of the fishermen would not be aroused. I ex- 
plained to them that in my opinion the stickleback had 
passed under the bridge up into Kanda Bay and that I 
ought to make careful survey of it. Early one morning I 
went in my dory up into the bay for this pretended investi- 


It was evening before I reached the head of the bay and 
explored the shore on both sides. At length I found several 
paths following the left bank of Kanda. Which of them 
was the main one? I had to find out. At about ten o'clock, 
after concealing the boat in a dense growth, I started off 
along a path leading west. This was a risky thing to do: any 
accidental meeting might mean death. How could I explain 
my presence on a path leading to Finland at night? I 
walked briskly, trying to cover as much ground as possible. 
The walking was difficult, the forest thick and wild. 

On I went for more than an hour until assured that it 
was the main path I was following the right one to the 
west. I stopped to blaze a tree and then turned back, retrac- 
ing my way to the dory to begin the long row against the 
wind to my quarters which I reached early in the morning. 

Now it was clear in my mind how I would begin the es- 
cape: the first twenty kilometers could be made rapidly by 
boat; before our escape had been discovered we should 
reach the main path to the west and might continue along 
it for another thirty kilometers during the first night at 
a great saving of our strength because we would not be 
forced to go through the unbroken forest. 

I had rented, in a fisherman's house near the " Nar- 
rows," a room for my wife and son to occupy when they 
should arrive before many days. My preparations seemed 
complete. The time for action was at hand. Together we 
would achieve freedom or suffer death. 

My wife has told the story of our escape how we 
started in the leaky row-boat, patched by my own hands, 
how, without compass or map, we walked over wild moun- 
tains, through forests and across swamps, to Finland and 


However hard my own experiences may appear, they 
were less severe than those of the majority of educated 


people in the U.S.S.R. Many who suffered torture and exe- 
cution were older than I was and of much more importance 
to science. My sentence five years of forced labor was 
far lighter than the usual punishment. 

The faith of Russians in world justice may be childish, 
but these prisoners and their families, and the widows and 
fatherless children of executed " wreckers/' still think that 
the world does not know what is happening to them. They 
cannot believe that a Christian civilization will knowingly 
permit such monstrous cruelties to continue. 




,HE " Academic Case " (sometimes called the " Platonoff 
Case " from the name of the academician S. F. Plato- 
noff) was one of the " biggest cases " conducted by 
the GPU, comparable to the " Mine Trial," the " case of 
the 48," the trial of the " Industrial Party," and others. 
In the life of the Russian intelligentsia it had a tar greater 
importance than the " trial of the Mensheviki," which had 
been conducted with such pomp in the Spring of 1931 
and reported in detail in the Soviet and foreign press. The 
circumstances of the " Academic Case " are little known, 
because the GPU never brought it to a public trial, but 
decided the fate of the most prominent scientists behind 
prison walls. The meagre details which seeped out, through 
persons directly connected with the " case " or their rela- 
tives, were disclosed with so much caution and were so 
disconnected that even the formal facts of the case for 
example, the accusation itself remained to a great ex- 
tent obscure and contradictory. 

The substance of the " Academic Case " was this: a 
group of persons composed of scientists-historians was sup- 
posed to have formed a " monarchist " plot directed against 
the Soviet Government. This group, it was alleged, not 
expecting to be able to effect the overthrow of the govern- 
ment by its own means, had secretly entered into an agree- 
ment with the government of Germany whereby the latter 


promised the assistance of its military forces. According to 
the GPU, the important positions in the future govern- 
ment, as planned by the would-be plotters, were to be held 
by academicians. 

I can tell about this case only as I heard it from the lips 
of persons who happened to be with me in prison cells and 
in the Solovetzki camp. Furthermore I am hampered by 
the fact that I can relate only such parts of their story as 
will not lead the GPU to discover who my informers were. 

The first peculiarity of the case is that it was a " failure " 
for the GPU. The " Mine Trial " and the trials of the " In- 
dustrial Party " and the " Mensheviki " had been carried 
out by the GPU to the very end, through all the stages of 
court procedure: the high-sounding announcements of the 
" disclosure of the plot," the beginning of the investigation, 
the opening of the court trial. It had been able to publish 
the " accusation act " and to stage the comedy of a trial in 
a most extravagant setting. In the presence of large crowds 
of spectators the accused men had been brought out onto 
the stage in the enormous hall of the former Building of 
the Nobility. They had publicly admitted their guilt, re- 
peating by heart the parts prepared for them by the exam- 
ining officers of the GPU. Citizen-Comrade Krilenko, in 
the lofty role of Prosecutor of the Republic had exercised 
all his wit and eloquence, assailing the bourgeoisie of the 
whole world which was plotting against the proletarian 
state, and hurling his tirades of defiance at microphones 
and foreign reporters. The spectators, the chorus in the 
play tickets could be obtained only through local So- 
viets, professional unions and party organizations had 
clamorously demanded the " highest degree of social de- 
fense " and had applauded the death sentence. Some of 
the accused men, who had strictly complied with the wishes 
of the GPU, had then been " pardoned " and the obedient 
public had with equal zest applauded the " pardon." At 


the same time the GPU had dealt with the chief group of 
persons arrested in connection with the case, whose num- 
ber had remained unknown except to itself, and finished 
with them in its routine way. 

Even in the case of the " 48," there had been some sem- 
blance of formality first an announcement of " the Plot," 
then published " confessions," and finally the sentence 
with a complete list of executed men. 

In the " Academic Case," however, the GPU had been 
unable to carry out even this minimum of formality. Ar- 
rests had begun before the announcement of the case and 
had continued after it; the case dragged on for two years, 
but, except for a few libelous newspaper articles, nothing 
had been published regarding it, no incriminating mate- 
rials, no " confessions " (although some of the accused 
men were world-famous) , not even the sentence. The case 
itself had been "liquidated": some of the accused had 
been secretly killed, the majority deported to 10 years of 
convict labor, a few lucky ones had been exiled to distant 
provinces. Due to the fact that resolutions concerning the 
men involved in the case were passed at different times, 
absurd inconsistencies had arisen: the most important 
" criminals," i.e. those who had been cast in the role of 
" leaders," had received the lightest sentences while others, 
admitted even by the GPU to be of secondary importance, 
had been sent to their death or to convict labor for 10 years. 

According to public knowledge, the case had developed 
in the following way: In the autumn of 1929, after the 
" weeding out " which had taken place at the Academy 
of Science when about three-quarters of the working 
staff had been dismissed and the papers had led the coarsest 
attack against everything connected with the Academy 
there began to be at first arrests of secondary persons who 
had been in contact with S. F. Platonoff. A rumor was 
spread that the text of the abdication of Nicholas II had 


been found in the manuscript department of the Academy 
of Science. It is hard to imagine what practical meaning 
this document could have had, but from it the GPU started 
a " monarchist plot." Almost all the employees of the manu- 
script department were arrested, its rooms sealed and the 
GPU began a search. Evidently nothing especially incrim- 
inating had been found there, but the blow fell upon Pla- 
tonoff, as director of the library, and S. V. Rojdestvenski, 
his assistant. 

Simultaneously the press was attacking the academician, 
S. F. Oldenburg, and the arrest of his secretary, B. N. 
Mollas, indicated that he might well become the central 
figure in the newly projected case. A. E. Fersman also of 
the Academy was in a similarly dangerous position. Many 
who were subsequently deported in connection with this 
case had been accused chiefly of being acquainted with 
A. E. Fersman or of coming in contact with him at meet- 
ings. In spite of that fact, however, Oldenburg and Fers- 
man, although they remained in disgrace for a long time, 
were not arrested. 

The " Academic Case " had been the achievement of the 
Leningrad GPU and at first the arrests had occurred only 
in Leningrad, chiefly in the library of the Academy of 
Science, in the Poushkin Building where gradually all the 
workers had been arrested, and in various " departments " 
subordinated to the Academy, especially in the Yakut de- 
partment where Vittenberg and most of its workers had 
been imprisoned. The public regarded these arrests as a 
final blow to the Academy of Science, as a decision of the 
Stalin government to crush the last remaining independent 
thought in this institution. 

It had been expected that the " case " would be tried in 
Leningrad in the Spring of 1930. But spring passed and 
the " case " was postponed until fall. The number of men 
arrested was continually increasing and other institutions 


not only of academic but of a general educational character 
were being affected. Evidently the GPU had broader aims 
and was directing the blow against the Leningrad intelli- 
gentsia as a whole. The " Russian Technical Society," the 
" Bureau of Regional Research," the " Society of Natural 
Science Teachers," the " Religious-Philosophical Circle," 
separate workers of the Russian Museum, publishers, lit- 
erary men, translators connected with the " World Litera- 
ture," every person and organization which was carrying 
on an educational work were being included in the 
" grandiose counter-revolutionary organization," whose 
" branches " were so varied that not only Platonoff, but 
the Academy of Science itself, had been relegated to the 

In the beginning of August, 1930, everybody had been 
literally aghast at a new wave of arrests this time in 
Moscow. The Moscow GPU was " concocting the case " 
of Moscow historians, arresting the academicians M. K. 
Lubovski, D. N. Egoroff, the Professors U. V. Go tie, S. V. 
Bakhroujhin and many others. As D. N. Egoroff had been 
practically at the head of the former Roumiantzeff (now 
Lenin) Public Library, many employees of this library as 
well as a number of Egoroff's former students at the 
Women's University had also been arrested. In the mean- 
time in Leningrad the academician, E. V. Tarle, who en- 
joyed great popularity and was looked upon as an authority 
in governmental circles had also been arrested. 

In this way the " case " had expanded beyond the limits 
of Leningrad and rumors had spread that it would be trans- 
ferred to Moscow. But the Moscow GPU was evidently at 
that time too busy preparing other trials; it ceded the 
" Moscow historians " to the Leningrad GPU and sent 
them the prominent men. All the " small fry " were de- 
ported wholesale. 

The last large group of persons had been arrested in 


November, 1930, that is, more than a year after the begin- 
ning of the case. The trial had been postponed to Decem- 
ber or January, 1931, but actually it never took place. 

The growth of the " Academic Case " had been, so to 
speak, a " natural " growth, which could have gone on 
indefinitely and could have also affected a number of 
foreign citizens. Such a growth is the necessary result of 
methods used by the GPU in conducting similar cases. In 
outline the method is this: first of all, the GPU arrests from 
ten to twenty persons who have something in common 
for example, work in the same field or institution, member- 
ship in the same scientific society, attendance at the same 
church, patronage of the same tailor or barber or for that 
matter, a simple acquaintance. Next, they are strictly iso- 
lated from each other and all are accused of participating 
in a counter-revolutionary organization whose aim they 
are expected to reveal by confession. At cross-examination 
they are put through the usual GPU routine of investiga- 
tion threats of execution and promises of leniency in 
case of confession of the crime. Probably two or three of 
these twenty men will weaken and sign " frank confes- 
sions," which under instructions from the examining officer 
will incriminate two or three others. With respect to those 
who persist in refusing to " confess," the GPU now arrests 
some of their relatives in order to exert pressure and also 
perhaps to obtain more incriminating information about 
other people. In this way would be started the second, 
larger circle of arrests which can be followed by any num- 
ber of more and still larger circles, as there exists no real 
case and therefore no limit which could stop its expansion. 

In October, 1930, when I found myself in the Shpaler- 
naya prison, men arrested in connection with the " Aca- 
demic Case " were being held in all the common cells, and 
in many double and solitary cells. According to our esti- 
mate, which cannot be considered complete, their number 


amounted to 150 men. Besides these, many were in 
" Kresti " and " Nijegorodskaya " prisons. The list of 
names of these prisoners was quite impressive. Besides the 
five academicians, S. F. Platonoff, M. K. Lubovski, N. P. 
Likhatcheff, E. V. Tarle, D. N. Egoroff, many professors 
were among the prisoners. Since I am not a historian, I 
remember, incidentally, the names of only those men whom 
I chanced to meet or heard spoken of. Thus I remember 
Professor U. V. Gotie, S. V. Rojdestvenski, S. V. Bakhrou- 
jhin, Zaozerski, V. A. Boutenko, Priselkoff, Borodin (his- 
torian, professor of the Petersburg University) , A. G. 
Woulfius, V. A. Baltz, the expert on the Far East, Meervart, 
teachers G. A. Petri, N. P. Antiziferoff, many workers of 
educational institutions of the Academy of Science, among 
them the librarian Pilkin, secretary B. N. Mollas, the 
curator of the Poushkin Building N. V. Izmailoff, Beliaeff, 
N. A. Pipin, G. Stern, Khordikainen, publishers Wolfson, 
Baranoff and so on. Explorers, numbering some thirty men, 
who had been arrested in the beginning of January, 1931, 
were also being accused in connection with the " Academic 
Case." Many did not know, until the sentence had been 
passed, what they were being accused of, and found out 
only later from the number assigned to their " case " that 
they also were a part of it. 

No one could understand what was to be done with so 
large a group of people belonging to such a large variety of 
specialties and of such varied personal opinions. One could 
only watch with anguish the constant additions to their 

Towards the end of 1930, when the Moscow GPU was 
brilliantly staging the trial of the " Industrial Party," it 
became clear to those of us familiar with the GPU methods 
that the " Academic Case " had failed and that it would 
not be brought to trial. In its public appearances, even the 
GPU had to maintain a certain standard of consistency and 


the " Academic Case " fabricated by the Leningrad GPU 
was not on a par with the " Industrial Party's Case " fabri- 
cated by the Moscow GPU. One of the two cases could have 
been staged, but not both. As I have already said, the sub- 
stance of the " Academic Case " supposedly involved the 
government of Germany. In the case of the " Industrial 
Party " the GPU had fabricated a " democratic-republi- 
can " plot connecting it with the French government. The 
roles of some of the persons involved corresponded in the 
two cases in spite of their dissimilarity. 

In 1929 when the GPU first conceived the idea of the 
" Academic Case," a challenge to Germany had been con- 
sidered timely. In the autumn of 1930, however, friendly 
conversations with Germany were going on and it had been 
deemed more appropriate to turn the guns in the direction 
of France. Moreover, rumors were being circulated that 
energetic protests had been made by the German govern- 
ment against any mention of German names in connection 
with the " case " and Moscow had been obliged to fold up 
its plans. 

And thus it was that the " Academic Case," so widely 
advertised at home and abroad, involving scientists with 
names of world-wide fame, had to be liquidated without 
noise secretly. To release them as innocent would have 
brought undesirable publicity. It was, therefore, impera- 
tive to maintain an appearance of their guilt. So in Febru- 
ary, 1931, the less conspicuous "participants" were sen- 
tenced to ten years in concentration camp, with confiscation 
of property. Since these people, although of honest names, 
were little known, and since the sentence had not been 
made public, the moaning which arose among the Russian 
intelligentsia had been heard by none. Engelhardt's wife, 
the sister of the writer Garshin, had in despair committed 
suicide by throwing herself down a stair well; the wife of 
Professor Boutenko hanged herself. The wife of one of the 


sentenced men had been unexpectedly seized as she was 
bringing her husband the last food parcel and had also 
been deported. The two daughters of S. F. Platonoff had 
been sentenced to ten years in a concentration camp and 
only somebody's intercession had stopped their deporta- 

It is hard to describe the impression all this produced. 
It was known too well that no guilt whatever could be 
attached to these people. 

In May, 1931, the next group, arbitrarily chosen, had 
received its sentence, which proved to be still more cruel; 
five men were shot, the remaining deported to concentra- 
tion camps. 

Everyone was waiting in dread and apprehension for the 
sentence of the " leaders." Would they really dare to shoot 
these Academicians, who had given so much of their intelli- 
gence and labor to the creation of Russian culture, many 
of whom were over seventy years old? 

Suddenly, in the summer of 1931, the direction of the 
wind changed for a short period. The leaders of the GPU, 
who had conducted the terror of the winter of 1930-1931, 
had been somewhat demoted: Akouloff had replaced Ya- 
goda; Stalin had pronounced some vague words to the 
effect that not all specialists were enemies; some kind of 
a commission had been formed with authority to revise 
the cases that had been disposed of with too much haste 
and too much cruelty. It was rumored that according to 
recommendations of this commission somebody had been 
granted a pardon and that some of the examining officers 
who had overexerted themselves in the case of the " 48 " 
had even been shot. This happy period was of short dura- 
tion, but the " leaders " of the " Academic Case " had felt 
its effects and had unexpectedly received " light " sentences 
exile to distant cities, but not to concentration camps. 
At the same time the sentence of convict labor for the 


daughters of S. F. Platonoff was commuted to exile and 
they had been allowed as a special privilege to join their 
father in exile. 

So the case ended in August, 1931. The press had not 
mentioned a word about the sentences. Both the govern- 
ment of the U.S.S.R. and the GPU itself had evidently 
considered this case so dark and shameful that they had 
preferred to remain silent. Nevertheless all the victims re- 
mained in camps and exile. Platonoff, Egoroff and Bou- 
tenko have already died, having been broken by the hard- 
ships of their experiences. How many have followed and 
still will follow them, without a chance of freedom, without 
a chance of dying at home, we shall never know. 

When the time comes that it will be possible to present 
the case basing it on documents and testimony of people 
who were directly implicated, this case will take its place 
as a true obituary of Russian, and especially historical, 
science. It will be one of the most tragic pages in the story 
of the destruction of the Russian intelligentsia.