Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vorkuta Rebelion 1936 (part 2)

Once I was called to the head of the camp and offered to drive an important NKVD worker, his wife and a little child to Vorkuta. A hooded sledge was prepared with blankets and pillows. The important passengers were dressed in deer fur jackets and felt boots. The child was wrapped up in blankets. The wife of the passenger, a tall, rather pretty woman asked me whether I knew the way. I answered that it was the first time I had to drive by sledge, since earlier I passed this road by foot and under escort. The chief looked at me attentively, knitted his brows and said nothing. I was dressed in pea-jacket, belted with a rope, a warm cap, a whip in hand, like a regular coach-man. The family was seated in the hooded sledge, I sat on the coachman’s seat, took the reins, shouted something and my horse, hurrying to get warm, trotted. The weather seemed to be favorable, the winter sun broke through clouds, small snow-flakes fell on my face. I was even distracted from the tragic events in Vorkuta. Nature is always fine, even in the far North. We moved rather quickly along a rutted road. On this road mechanical materials and food products for concentration camps were usually transported, as well as numerous transports of prisoners. The polar weather is very capricious. Grey clouds appeared in the sky, they moved quickly from South-West to North-West and soon all the sky was covered with black-blue clouds. Wind blew and it began to snow. The horse was alarmed; I had to use the whip and to pull on the reins more strongly. Suddenly a sharp, gusty wind blew, snow-flakes began to stick to my face, I could not see the horse’s collar. I jumped down. The horse moved slower and then stopped in front of a big snow-drift. A hoarse voice from the hooded sledge asked: “What happened?” I shouted loudly: “A snow-storm is beginning; the horse is moving aside, I will go in front of it and pull it by the rope.” A real snow-storm broke, nothing could be seen ahead. The snow-storm grew stronger. The road was utterly lost, only white desert around. The horse stopped, my whip was of no use. Again the hoarse voice from the hooted sledge: “You strike it stronger with the whip”. I answered: “Now the horse is not afraid of the whip, it is not a human being”. My passenger got out and poking his gloved fist to my nose hissed:” Look here, if anything happens to us, I will let you rot in prison, and you will never see freedom.” These words offended me intensely and I, overwhelming the wailing of the wind, shouted loudly: “Don’t scare me, I was scared enough…better help me to get on the right road, forget for a time of your power and think of your child and wife.” Evidently my words had an effect on him; he went round the horse and took the rope. Thus we moved for about an hour and suddenly heard the bell ringing. This was salvation. A sledge with frozen cod followed us. The draymen came down, approached us and tied down the hooted sledge to their sledge. They knew the road very well, as they had passed it hundreds of times. They were criminals who served long terms, they moved without consort. In three hours we safely arrived to the concentration camp “Sivaya Maska”. In this camp consorts were collected for driving to Vorkuta. I unharnessed the horse, I had to feed and water it. I was also hungry after 14 hours of riding. I sat on the log near the house of civilians and took out my ration from the sack. The woman whom I had driven came up to me and said: “I heard very well your remark concerning my husband, for God’s sake forgive him. Since he began this work I don’t recognize him. Evidently the work strongly influences the person’s behavior.” Then she asked me where I was from and what I was before prison. I answered: “Before prison I lived in Leningrad with my family and was a philosophy professor at Universities.” After Kirov’s murder my wife and I were arrested and our children were sent out of Leningrad.” The woman exclaimed: My God, we and you are from Leningrad, how it turned out that you are here?” I explained in short how it happened and reminded that Dostoevsky and Chernyshevsky and even Lenin also were prisoners. The woman listened attentively and suddenly offered: “Will you come and have a snack with us… By the way, you’ll see that my husband is not the barbarian, as he seemed to you when we traveled”. I refused, because prisoners were forbidden to sit at the same table with civilians. My fellow-traveler insisted, and we went to the civilians house. The twelve months old baby was sleeping on the sofa. My passenger was sitting at the table, covered with oil-cloth. Sliced white bread, bacon and sausage and even black caviar were on the table. Larissa (the chief’s wife) invited me to sit and began to put on my plate the food that I could only dream of. She poured a big cup of strong tea from a huge tee-pot, which stood on a red-hot stove. I began to feel some family comfort. But the chief was sitting with downcast eyes, he put lumps of sugar in his cup and seemed displeased. Larissa sat to the table with a glass of tea and looking in turn at her husband and me said in her melodious voice: “Do you know Volodya, our coach-man is a professor from Leningrad, our fellow town-man.” Then the chief, taking a sip of tea, addressed me: “What were you blamed for?” I answered: For being in Zinoviev grouping.” When will your term finish?” I answered: “Formally at the 8-th of December 1939, if they will not add to the term.” I answered: “Those, who gave the term, can add to it”. “How can they add? – the chief asked. I answered: “Тhe Special Committee of NKVD gives terms in default of persons, without court. This body is not provided by the constitution”. My interlocutor bit his lower lip, swallowed a mouthful of cool tea and flung a remark that surprised me: “Yes, something strange happened to us after the death of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin”.

Our talk was interrupted as head of the camp entered. The camp tradition by no means allows close terms between civilians and prisoners. Thus the head of the camp was astonished to find the prisoner sitting at the same table with the NKVD worker and his family. He looked at me with perplexity but did not dare to tell something because the chief came from Moscow and was of a higher rank. The head of the camp reported that the chief would be given another coach-man and another hooded sledge. I was glad that I would not drive the chief to Vorkuta. Dressing the pea-jacket and belting with a rope I left the house of civilians. When I was harnessing the horse, the wife of the chief approached me and put a small bag in my hands, in which in addition to food I later found two new handkerchiefs and warm socks. The pretty woman held my hand and said: “I hope you soon will be free and probably we will meet in Leningrad. I ask you not to think negatively of my husband, he being a communist had to submit the order“. We looked at each other and the woman ran quickly to the porch of the house. It is so good that in our life as convicts we can meet free people having a soul.

The weather changed to the best, cumulus clouds floated in the blue sky like huge lumps of cotton wool, snow-flakes sparkled. No wind. I saw patches of sunlight, light lines on the snow. I felt free, but in my mind I understood that I am a convict and will be a convict as long as tyranny reigns in Russia. In my heart I felt sad and at the same time good. I moved on the Ussa river as a free man without consort, admired fir-trees covered with snow. I thought about the chief’s wife, of her husband words. NKVD men are very sparing of words, they never dare to speak sincerely with a prisoner. They are afraid of their own words. The chief whom I transported was a young NKVD worker, the communist party recently mobilized him and sent him to concentration camps instructing him to be vigilant with enemies of the people. But this comparatively young man probably possesses an inner flair. Thus he gradually begins to understand what is going on. He was displeased that after receiving order he had to leave urgently the work he loved and travel together with his young wife and a little child to Vorkuta.

But when the day comes, the people of Russia will understand that both in the past and in the future, tyranny always kills everything that is alive and bright, that without freedom our life is gloomy.

My horse quickly rode on the Ussa, it hurried home where it was waited in the stable. I caught up with a big group of coachmen. All of them were prisoners, either convicts or criminals condemned to small terms for non- political crimes dreaming of speedy release. Moving along the snowy Ussa I felt well, but soon the image of another, also charming woman, Pasha Kunina came to my mind and all my joy disappeared. Again I felt unhappy, and in this state already in the dusk I came to Kochmes.I was awfully tired. Again I was in the barrack Sasha Girshberg ran to me, he was interested with my fellow-travelers and congratulated me for my traveling without consort. I hardly lied on my plank-bed as the chief of regime entered together with two warders and ordered everybody to get up and form. It turned out that they would again call the new list of executed in Vorkuta. The number of executed was now more 2,000. The bloody mincing machine continued to turn with great speed. This time I heard the name of American journalist whom I knew, he was a cook in the dining rooms for privileged concentration camp specialists. I thought: “Why he?” It was known that he did not take part in rebellion or hunger-strikes. He was more than 60 years old and still he was shot. Evidently, they wanted to get rid of a dangerous witness.

In the morning the team-leader told us that we would go to the forest to “squeeze tar.” We took saws and axes and moved with consort to birch wood. We sawed and chopped young birches, laid piles of logs, covered them with turf and set them on fire. Suddenly somebody cried: “The camp is on fire!” Several barracks were on fire, including Sasha’s” and my. We were sure that our scanty belongings were burnt. A.L.Voitolovskaya, M.A. Shlykova and “Menshevik” O.Ya. Sapozhnikova ran to us, their faces and clothes were black with soot but their eyes were shining. They had managed to save from fire our things. We began to embrace and kiss the brave women. It was said that some prisoner poured benzene on the barracks and set them on fire being in a fit of madness.

Usually on Saturdays administration members of the camp drank vodka and sang. Taking advantage of this, Sasha Girshberg and I went to the hothouse, where fresh vegetables for civilians were grown. There Maria Yoffe, the widow of former well-known diplomat and a close friend of L.D. Trotsky, was looking after all the works. Ada Voitolovskaya and Maraia Shlykova also came. The over-seer, whose duty was to watch Maria’s work, was fast asleep every Saturday and Sunday after getting drunk while we were talking on different topics. Maria Yoffe called our assembling “the Carbonari meetings”. Once she told us of the tragic demise of a woman in whom the deceased former camp chief was in love with. My wife and I met this woman earlier in Ust-Ussa. She was pretty. Already then she lived with a former prisoner, who remained as a civilian at a concentration camp after 10-years term. She told my wife that she was going to marry this man, and wouldn’t go back to live outside the camp because her first husband informed on her. This situation when the husband informs on his wife and vice-versa, was very common in Stalin’s time.

When this woman finished her term, she was waiting for the navigation season so she could go back to her loved one in

Ust-Ussa. She took the first tugboat. On this boat the former chief saw this woman and tried to rape her. She ran out of her cabin and began to shout. Then, the chief shot her and afterwards shot himself. That was how one of the endless tragedies came to a close.

A big island was near Kochmes on the Ussa tributary. There, prisoners under guarding grew vegetables and made hay. When the river was free of ice, prisoners were rowed in boats to the island, where light barracks were built for men and women. The works began in early spring, the men were plowing, and the women were planting. The working day lasted from dawn till sunset. Team-leaders always hurried the workers, threatened to cut their bread ration. Watch-towers were on the borders, the guards constantly watched over the prisoners. And yet, a group of prisoners managed to run away. When ice-drift began, they rowed on a big fishing boat on the Ussa and Pechora up to Naryan-Mar where they managed to board a foreign ship and got aboard. There were 8 people in the group, including two women. That was an extraordinary event, NKVD workers got very excited. Between these prison-breakers were short-term prisoners, to whom the administration trusted. After the prison break the regime became far crueler, after the day’s work the prisoners had to be lying on the plank-beds, those who infringed the order were sent to BUR (barrack of special regime).Once a tragedy occurred. One of the prisoners had a stomachache at night. He was not able to run to lavatory and sat down near a fence. A guard on the tower shot him. Vigilance is above all, a person’s life is nothing!

On the place of burnt barracks the administration made us build new ones. We had to do earth works, both men and women. Girshberg, Voitolovskaya, Shlykova and I united into a team; we had to dig two pits. We worked hard. Sasha and I chopped off lumps of frozen earth, and the women threw them to the side with spades. We worked 13-14 hours a day, but rarely made the norm. But even in these conditions we managed to exchange opinions on different subjects. Back then we were worried that fascism grew strong in Europe. We knew that the “socialist” Mussoliny considered socialism and fascism equal already in 1919. He himself came from proletarian mass, one time he paved streets in Milan. When he came to power, he first of all did away with all the democratic traditions. Mussoliny understood that he could not remain in power leaning upon petty- bourgeoisie in the conditions of democracy and freedom. He already came to power in 1922. The same process proceeded in Germany, where as in Italy, middle sections of the population (“marsh”) played a significant role. Hitler and his gang did not lean on the large capital, but exactly on this “marsh”. From the moment fascism came to power, mass terror began to act against Jews and all the democratic powers. While working, I tried to characterize general features of fascism: a creation of strong punitive organs, liquidation of all kinds of the democratic freedom, the personal dictatorship of the leader, mass terror against differently minded people, conversion of the ruling party into voting and demonstrating dummies, creation of military-industrial complex, exploiting the national and patriotic feelings of petty – bourgeoisie, a big army and aggression against other countries. In different countries depending on historic progress and national features fascism shows itself in different forms. The essence of fascism is one and the same, only its forms are different.

After the October revolution in Russia the so called “dictatorship of proletariat” was established, indeed it was dictatorship of one party, which essentially became at first the dictatorship of a small group of party functionaries and afterwards - dictatorship of the leader.

The communist party in the USSR liquidated all the other political parties and groups; the opposition inside the party was defeated. The cult of personality and terror against differently minded – the characteristic features of fascism - became especially notable in communist party politics after Lenin’s death. Lenin also was a dictator, but he was well-educated, taught in the West in the period of 17 years of emigration. In Lenin’s period, old revolutionaries were members of Central Committee, they kept democratic traditions. A considerable part of the Central Committee was equal to Lenin in political experience, education and talent, many of them often did not agree with Lenin rather seriously. It was quite differently when the idea of dictatorship came to mind of ignorant, vindictive, cowardly and criminal satrap from Georgia. The same idea, coming to different people’s mind, leads to totally different results, sometimes, to directly opposite ones. Fascism in Germany and in USSR has a lot in common. It is not a coincidence that the dictatorship and mass terror came to their peak at the end of the 30’es. By this time Hitler and Stalin liquidated all the objectionable and suspicious persons. They created far-flung networks of concentration camps, in both countries the military-industrial complexes grew quickly. The former painter and the former seminarian thought in the same way, both of them cynically mocked at the idea of freedom, the society turned into a mob of slaves, all the layers of society were entangled with a network of informers and agents. It is often said that in Germany all Jews were killed, but in the USSR this did not happen. I think that if the Kremlin satrap lived one or two years longer, he would also make the final decision of the Jew question. Those were our talks when the supervisors were not watchful enough. Once, a question arose: whether in the USSR there were no forces, which would raise people against Stalin tyranny. In tsarist Russia rebellions, strikes, demonstrations constantly agitated the country. What could be said in this respect? That was a vast theme demanding studies in different fields of knowledge: political, historic, sociologic, philosophic etc. I could answer only in general features. Here’s approximately what I said. The society of the USSR at the end of 30-th differs extremely from the Russian society of the beginning of XX-th century. All the progressive forces of Russia before the October revolution that had led to the February revolution were completely destroyed after Bolshevics came to power. Decisive social changes occurred. The majority of the working and creative part of peasantry was liquidated, the other considerable part of it was ruined and moved to towns, as a result a numerous strata of lumpen- proletarians arose. The progressive-minded part of workers and intellectuals also was destroyed, now the workers are mostly former peasants. Now already there are no hereditary politically educated workers - those who struggled for democracy and freedom, such as Shlyapnikov, Lutovinov, Sapronov, M. Ivanov, I.N. Smirnov, Mrachkovsky, Muralov. Who can rise against tyranny? Moreover, unprecedented in number and technical equipment apparatus of punitive organs is created. The tragic events in Vorkuta demonstrated that even a harmless protest against tyranny is ended with the cruelest violence, but there is silence in the country and masses applaud to the bloody tyrant. I remember that clever and courageous women Tankhilevich and Sapozhnikova answered that at any conditions it is necessary to secretly keep organized community of people having conformity of opinions who do not agree to submit to tyranny. They mentioned the reaction period at the time of Alexander !!!. I answered that then the whole of Russia craved for changes and repressions could not change anything, the repressions themselves were very liberal in comparison with Stalin regime. Then only tens of revolutionary-terrorists were executed, and at Soviet regime millions were killed and millions were put to prisons and concentration camps. It is time to change our concept of revolution and reaction, of tyrants and liberals. We have now to use a new experience acquired by humanity. Now Neron and Kaligula look in other way when we compare them with Hitler and Stalin.

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