In 1936-37 unprecedented terror was raging all over the country. By day and by night revolutionary tribunals, “extraordinary threes” sentenced to death and the sentences were immediately fulfilled. Even in the time of savagely cruel Ivan Grozny with his oprichniks there was nothing of the kind. Every family was feeling horror and fear. Certainly, Stalin did his criminal vile deeds not alone, millions of “worshippers” and hundreds thousands of oprichniks were ready annihilate anybody and any number of victims according to his directions. But oprichniks also felt then blind fear: they already knew that their chief Yagoda was declared “enemy of people” and arrested. It was necessary quickly deliver from the former ‘liberalism’ in the concentration camps, the regime began quickly become tougher. They daily made “shmony” (searches) by day and by night . Shook up everything , in posting the sentries searched every prisoner, political prisoners were not allowed to correspond. For the least fault the prisoners were sent to “Bour” ( barrack of special regime) or to Brick works in Vorkuta. Brick works meant death. I knew about events in Vorkuta from Pasha Kunina, Vladimir Kossior’s wife, she was sent to Kochmes after the end of hunger-strike in Vorkuta. Pasha told me that a committee of prisoners was created, at the beginning it carried on talks with the camp administration on softening the regime and afterwards organized strikes and hunger-strikes. Vladimir Kossior, Victor Eltsin, Grigory Yakovin and Pasha Kunina were in the committee. Both strike and hunger-strike acquired mass-character and continued about 100 days. The prisoners held out very steady, the camp administration was evidently confused. The weakened hunger-strikers were fed by force: they were drawn on the stretchers to a medical unit and liquid food was led in through probe, those who resisted were tied. Some especially weakened strikers were taken to a medical unit in Usa station. Vorkuta administration continually got in touch with Moscow to get instructions concerning hunger- strikers. They received instruction, and promised hunger- strikers to comply with their demands. Then the prisoners stopped the hunger- strike. They recovered very slowiy, they could not work, most of them were lying on plank-beds. Their faces were deathly pale, they were very lean, their eyes were sunken, dull. When Pasha felt a little better, she was sent to a women camp Kochmes. When Pasha was telling all this she could hardly restrain from tears, her eyes were dreary, as if she foresaw something more terrible. Vladimir Kossior was taken to Moscow, as they told, for retrial of his case. Vladiir then, certainly, did not know that his two brothers, members of the party Central Committee, were already imprisoned, while they had always defended Stalin line, opposed supporters of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Bukharin. This fact was very typical, Stalin already began to do away with his supporters. Pasha did not know about it but intuitively did not believe that her husband was taken to Moscow for retrial of his case. Vladimir Kossior was an oppositionist long ago, he opposed not only Stalin, but sharply criticized Lenin at the X-th party congress, when the last offered very resolutely to struggle with all the opposition groups. When I only had a free minute, I tried to meet Pasha, although it was forbidden to enter the women’s barrack. I imperceptibly stole into the barrack, Pasha and I sat on a bench and spoke quietly. We had a lot of things to recollect.
I first met Pasha at the beginning of 1921 at the workers faculty of Moscow University, we were seating side by side at lessons. She was then 26-27 years old, her husband Vladimir Kossior was a member of presidium of the Central Professional Units and the editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Trud” (labor). Then he was one of the leaders of the workers’ opposition and was already beginning to suffer from repressions. Pasha acquainted me with Dina Belotserkovsky, who became my wife. They were close friends from young age, worked together in sewing workshop in Poushkin street in Kiev, in 1910 they entered the social-democratic movement, worked together in the underground, organized strikes. After the Civil war Dina and Pasha worked in Commissariat of public education, she fought to find a home for every child, organized professional schools and courses. When Dina and I lived in Moscow, and later, when it was possible, I often called on the 1-st House of Soviets, where Pasha’s family and her mother lived. Vladimir Kossior always shared the newest information of party congresses and struggle in Central Committee. Besides that, he always deeply analyzed the processes going on in the party and could anticipate the future, he earlier than others foretold that Stalin’s gang would gradually deal with all the popular leaders of the party and that all the differently minded people would go to jail. But he did not speak of mass massacre; he evidently did not suppose that matters would take such a turn.
I reminded Pasha that in 1928 she sent me a scarf, mittens and a fur cap to Butyrka jail and I had no chance to thank her. Pasha recollected that in 1921 I helped her to understand the depth of “Capital” by Marks. Once when everybody were sleeping in the barrack she asked me to sing in low voice arias of Varangian guest and Nadir which I sang in her flat long ago. She said that the arias reminds her of better days. Our meeting and talks stopped suddenly. It was severe winter, 40 degrees C. below zero. The whole concentration camp was agitated. Pasha Kunina was offered urgently to collect her things: she was escorted to Vorkuta. Why such a big escort, when they take a weak woman? We only knew that this escort do not carry to freedom. Pasha, pale and shivering, went out of the barrack with a bag in her hands, quilted jacket unfastened, the cap does not cover ears, and she was without mittens. It seems O. Ya. Sapozhnikova thrust warm mittens in her hands. Pasha sat into the sledge, her lips were trembling, her black eyes sparkled feverishly. Prisoners tightly surrounded the sledge, women were crying. When the escort tried to drive away the crowd, the women began to shout: “Barbarians, butchers, you should rather work in the coal pit, than to escort women!” Agitation rose, the guards were confused. I rushed to Pasha to tell good-bye but immediately received a violent stroke on the back with a butt. But I rushed to my old friend again, embraced and kissed her and I saw big tears streaming on her face. Pasha told: “Grisha, we see each other for the last time, I feel this is the end.” The horse moved, and the sledge with Pasha and two guards rolled to the Ussa river, the sledge with two other guards following them. We watched them for a long time, waved hands and caps. It remonded me of Surikov’s picture “Boyarynia Morozova”. But here a hereditary proletarian was carried who gave out all her conscious life to the struggle for freedom of working class in Russia. Whether a time comes when Russian artists will paint scenes of Soviet prisoners’ life? The scene of Pasha Kunina carried in the sledge to Vorkuta was engraved in my memory for all my life: Pasha dressed in quilted jacket, crying, two guards with rifles by her sides was not carried to monastery like boyarynia Morozova but to execution.
Two weeks later in the evening when we were already laying on the plank-beds the chief of the regime entered the barrack accompanied with two warders and ordered everybody to get up and form. First he enumerated 50 surnames of prisoners in Vorkuta camp and then read aloud the decision of Vorkuta “camp three”, where it was said that the enumerated prisoners were sentenced to death for sabotage, refusal from work and rebellion. During the whole month they called each day new 50 surnames and decision of execution. About two thousand people were named. I heard the names of dear Pasha Kunina, Victor Eltsin, Grisha and Mark Rubashkin, Feodor Dingelshtedt and many others, whom I knew very well before my arrest in 1934. They were excellent, pure people, romantics who gave their mental and physical powers to the struggle for better future of people. They were shot in icy cold tundra by representatives of this people, who fulfilled orders of the barbarian leader. All of us were shocked, many of us heard of death of relatives and friends. I could not sleep, could not fulfill my daily duties, that meant cutting down bread ration, which could lead to death. I made every effort to pull myself together. In one of the lists that were read I heard the names of Sasha Brazhenkov and Makar, they were sent to the camp for criminal cases. They helped a lot to political prisoners and saved me in very hard situations. They did not take part in the strike and hunger-strike but the camp administration decided to deal with them: they behaved too independently. Soon we got to know terrible details of Vorkuta tragedy from witnesses who escaped by some miracle. The barracks were surrounded by armed guards. The prisoners still weak after a prolonged hunger-strike, were put into chains, and led or carried under a big escort in the direction of Brick Works and there they were shot with machine-guns. The killed were not buried, the corpses left on the frozen earth were soon covered with snow but for a long time arms, legs and heads were seen. This terrible picture of unprecedented crime of bandit gang ruled by Kremlin barbarian I should name a kind of apotheosis of Bolshevic power in analogy with Vereschagin’s picture “Apotheosis of war”, where a big burial mound of human skulls is shown.
Trains with coal from Vorkuta and oil from Ukhta move on Pechora railway. Nobody of contemporaries realizes that those coal and oil are clots of blood of the whole generation of people who dreamed of free Russia, and they were killed only because of this dream and their remains were left in permafrost zone for good. And who will answer for these crimes? The main criminal is buried with honour near Kremlin wall as a “Leninist and hero of Russian revolution”. “Demons” by Dostoevsky are just babies in comparison with Kremlin cannibal of XX –th century. All the executions in Vorkuta, as well as executions before and after that were conducted according to personal directions of Stalin. GULAG, Vorkuta administration, Yagoda, Yezhov, Beria are only disgusting and criminal tentackles of the Kremlin dragon. At those far and terrible days I decided: if I get free, I would write about concentration camp and the main murderer, maniac- gensec. We cannot afford that the generations after us should not know about it. For many years criminals leaded by “the great helmsman” cannot be forgiven.
After Vorkuta tragedy a lot of NKVD (later KGB) workers drove through Kochmes to Vorkuta. They were to substitute for those who carried out the cruel massacres: the main criminal decided to get rid of executioners and witnesses of Vorkuta crimes.