USSR in the 1930s (1)
Mr. Jacques Rossi was born to a wealthy French family in Lyons in 1909. Had lived in many parts of Europe, following his Polish stepfather, when he joined the Polish Communist party at the age of 16. He was summoned to Moscow by Comintern to work as its staff member at the age of 20. First arrested in 1937 but soon re- leased. Was arrested for the second time in 1939 and was detain- ed in a concentration camp for 22 years. He wrote two books: the Gulag Handbook, London, 1987 and Fragments de Vies, Paris, 1995. At present, he resides in Paris. Jacques Rossi, "Fragments de Vies, pp. 9~12, 38~41, published by Elikia, Paris, 1995.
"Spell out! Confess! You swine, you are a dirty Fascist. Tell us all about your anti-Soviet activity!"
I was standing in the interrogation room since the preceeding night. This was the notorious Loubianka Prison in Moscow. I had no idea what happened to me. Until some weeks ago, I risked my life to work in Spain for the cause of Lenin. Now I was being interrogated in Moscow as a Fascist.
"Spell out! Confess! You dirty Fascist!"
At dawn, a new interrogator came in. "Spell out! Confess! You dirty Fascist!" I had to stand with my arms around my back for more than 24 hours. Was it because I was too nervous that I did not feel hungry and tired? 48 hours passed and the interrogator called in a guard, signed a card and gave it to him. The guard took me out of the office and to another office. In the room, there was the Chief Guard. He took the card and wrote down something in a very thick book and covered the book with a metal jacket. I could only recognize my name in the narrow column.
"Sign here!," said the Chief Guard giving me a pencil. There was my name, date and time. It was five o'clock forty three minutes. The same thing was repeated since my arrival here two days ago.
The guard followed me very closely and kept clicking his leather buckle with a key. At other prisons, they click their tongues instead of this sound. Whenever we made a turn at a corridor, or a cross junction, or when we passed through a door, the guard ordered me, without exception, "Halt! Turn to the wall!" The guard then made sure that there was no other prisoner around. This was a practice to avoid a prisoner meeting another. They never took any risks. There were several thousand prisons in USSR. No prisoner will ever encounter another, anywhere, unless it was so arranged by the authorities. It has been always like that. Finally, I arrived at my cell.
The guard, in charge of cells, looked at the card from the guard, who took me here, and opened the door. I had my arms around in the back all that way. This was the rule here. I couldn't bring my arms forward even after I was inside my room. All the faces in the room turned towards me. What a happiness it was to sit down at "one's place" in the cell. I climbed up the common bed and threw myself on my place. Someone, nearby, took off my boots and massaged my swollen legs in silence. Someone brought my soup from the previous day. They replaced my old soup with fresh soup for every meal. But I was so tired and my lips could not touch the soup, I was so sleepy and fell into sleep. I imagined everything was gone.
I was suddenly startled, as though I was being beaten with a club, and woke up. It was because my name was being called. The door opened. I walked out and the door closed behind me. I was separated from my inmates in the cell. The guard asked me my name while looking at a card. When I replied my name, two guards twisted my arms and held me up tightly. They never allowed my arms loose except when the Chief Guard made me sign the thick book. My arms used to be free when I was in the interrogation room.
"Spell out! You dirty Fascist. Confess quickly."
"I have nothing to confess," I sometimes replied. My reply made the interrogator furious and he jumped up and down with anger. They took shifts of 5 or 6 hours. But I had to stand with my arms in the back all the time. Five days and six nights passed like that. I could no longer figure out what's going on around me. The strong light went off from the light reflector. I walked...Oh, I walked several corridors...Have I signed the thick book which the Chief Guard produced to me? The door opened. How nice it was to sit down in my place in the cell!
Sometime later, I was again called out. This time it was a different direction. Where are they taking me to? No place can be worse than the interrogation room!
I was taken to a basement and into a room. It was a hollow room without window. There was light bulb hanging from the ceiling showing the concrete floor. The floor looked unpleasant and was wet and dirty. There was a water faucet and a bucket of water. A sergeant and two enlisted men were there leaning against the wall. They were wiping sweat from their forehead. The sergeant looked at the card he received from the guard and pinned it up on the wall. There were other cards also pinned up. They didn't say anything and started to beat me. I could not know how I fell to the concrete floor. It was all foggy. I opened my eyes. I saw a man with a bucket of water. It appears that they splashed water on me. They held me up and started to beat me again. They punched me with their fists and kicked at me with their boots. Before I fainted again, I had a quick glimpse of the badge of Communist Youth League in one of the men's coat. The badge shows Lenin's face on a red flag. But I fought in Spain and risked my life for the same Lenin.
Fifty years have passed since. Later, I underwent much worse ordeals. But I still remember the three men very vividly. They were the first men who tortured me in the name of Lenin who, I believed, promised me a bright future.
The great purge was at its peak in 1937. There were over one hundred prisoners in a common cell of Boutyrka prison in Moscow. The prisoners in the cell include senior members of the Party/Government soldiers, reporters, students, diplomats, a stamp collector, two Esperanto linguists, a mute, several foreign communists and old communist vanguards who joined the revolutions in 1905 and 1917. They all sat in the cell with no expressions. They did not know why they were arrested.
The door of the cell was briefly open and somebody was pushed in. The door was closed again. The newcomer, depressed by the sudden misfortune that befell on him, stood there motionless. Someone, perhaps out of sympathy, asked him where he was from. He did not respond. But after a little while, he began to tell us about him. His name was Nikifor Prozorov, 30 years old, and a farmer at a collective farm near Moscow.
One day, a friend of his who lived in Moscow showed him an evening edition of the "Moscow." The newspaper carried an advertisement reading "a cattle helper wanted." The advertisement showed an address on Herzen Street for contact. (the writer can not remember exact number of the street) He thought that this could be a good opportunity to get out of the collective farm, which did not look promising. So, he got a 3-day travel authorization from the chairman of the collective farm. The travel authorization was the price for his sweat and hard work on the farm in the past. When he arrived in Moscow, the address was not easy to find. So he asked a policeman for directions. The policeman replied that the location was quite far and there was construction work on the way making it difficult to reach the place. The policeman offered him a ride in his car to the address. He was very impressed by the kindness of the Moscow policeman. Such a difference from his collective farm! A little later, we arrived at the building. The policeman reached a small, wooden box hidden on the wall and took out a key from the box. He opened the door. Then, he picked up a telephone there and called somebody. He said a few things. Before he had time to lock the door again, a car pulled up at the front. The policeman kindly opened the car door and asked him to get inside. He was again deeply moved by the kindness of the Moscovites. But the travel by car took a long time and its destination was a prison. All this happened only the day before. One of the men in the cell asked him,
"Hey, look! Isn't it number xxxx on Herzen Street?"
"Yes, you are right," replied Prozorov.
"What a pity! You are now charged with spying for Japan."
Prozorov appeared confused and did not understand anything.
"Of course, it's not your fault. But the address was for a hotel and, in that hotel, a Japanese Embassy staff member was staying. What happened was that the Japanese Embassy was looking for a cattle helper and made a request to the Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to help them find one. The Department is the channel of supply for all the diplomats in USSR. This is one way of preventing any contact between Russians and foreign diplomats. How do I know all this? I was a staff member of that Department myself. The Japanese may have advertised directly because their request was not responded to for a long time."
The first question the interrogator would ask Prozorov would be why he was arrested. He didn't know. Then, the interrogator would explain that it was on a spy charge, adding that the newspaper advertisement was a mean for a Japanese spy to contact his agents. Then, Prozorov would protest "But, I am not a Japanese agent."
"I lived in a collective farm all my life. I joined the Boys' Corps at the age of 7 and Communist Youth League at the age of 14. I was accepted as a party member during my military service. I am not a Japanese agent."
The prisoners in the cell had a good impression of his sincere and naive attitude. A committee was organized immediately to help him and an application was prepared on his behalf for re-examination.
Some weeks and some months passed. We could see that he was tortured severely with each new investigation. But he never yielded and did not admit to the charge against him. Interrogation stopped. One day, he was ordered by the guard to pack up and come out. This meant that he would never return to the cell. Where were they taking him to?
"I am sure he is released," said one of them, who helped to prepare an appeal for him. Another man tried hard to make him remember his wife's telephone number. "Call her and tell her to send me only 45 roubles, not 50 roubles as before. If I receive 45 roubles, that's an indication that she got my message. Now, say the telephone number again." The people there all approached him and congratulated him.
Two years later, I was again among the prisoners in a prison car, not knowing where we were going. The prisoners had no idea of what's waiting for them ahead. The prisoners were ordered to get off the car in Sverdlovsk. To be more precise, they were told to leave the car at a location 1 kilometer before the station so that they would not be spotted by people. Under a very strict supervision, the prisoners moved toward a transit prison. Once the registration procedures were completed, the prisoners were organized into several groups. Our group was detained in a large common cell. The cell was jammed with over two hundred people. The prisoners slept everywhere, be it on the bed, table or floor. Immediately I could perceive that all of them had experience of staying at a concentration camp for a long time. This was the first time I ever witnessed such a scene; an assembly of beggars.
Suddenly, somebody called me "Jacques." It was very difficult to find out who called me because there were so many people around. Who would recognize me here when this was my first trip to Sverdlovsk? A big bearded guy approached me, smiling from the bed below. It's Prozorov! We embraced each other as though we were brothers. He told me that he was sentenced to 8 years corrective labor on the charge of spying for Japan.