«THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO Also by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn The Nobel Lecture on Literature August 1914 A Lenten Letter to Pimen, Patriarch of All Russia ...»
What legal expert, what criminal historian, will provide us with verified statistics for those 1937-1938 executions? Where is that Special Archive we might be able to penetrate in order to read the figures? There is none. There is none and. there never will be any. Therefore we dare report only those figures mentioned in rumors that were quite fresh in 1939-1940, when they were drifting around under the Butyrki arches, having emanated from the high- and middle-ranking Yezhov men of the NKVD who had been arrested and had passed through those cells not long before. (And they really knew!) The Yezhov men said that during those two years of 1937 and 1938 a half-million "political prisoners" had been shot throughout the Soviet Union, and 480,blatnye-habitual thieves-in addition. (The thieves were all shot under Article 59-3 because they constituted "a basis of Yagoda's power"; and thereby the "ancient and noble companionship of thieves" was pruned back.) How improbable are these figures? Taking into consideration that the mass executions went on not for two full years but only for a year and a half, we would have to assume (under Article 58-in'other words, the politicals alone) an average of 28,000 executions per month in that period. For the whole Soviet Union.
But at how many different locations were executions being carried out? A figure of 150 would be very modest. (There were more, of course. In Pskov alone, the NKVD set up torture and execution chambers in the basements of many churches, in former hermits' cells. And even in 1953 tourists were still not allowed into these churches, on the grounds that "archives" were kept there. The cobwebs hadn't been swept out for ten I 439 The Supreme Measure years at a stretch: those were the "archives" they kept there. And before beginning restoration work on these churches, they had to haul away the bones in them by the truckload.) On the basis of this calculation, an average of six people were shot in the course of one day at each execution site. What's so fantastic about that?
It is even an understatement! (According to other sources, 1,700,000 had been shot by January 1, 1939.) During the years of World War II, the use of capital punishment was occasionally extended for various reasons (as, for example, by the militarization of the railroads), and, at times, was broadened as to method (from April, 1943, on, for example, with the decree on hanging).
All these events delayed to a certain extent the promised full, final, and perpetual repeal of the death penalty. However, the patience and loyalty of our people finally earned them this reward. In May, 1947, Iosif Vissarionovich inspected his new starched dickey in his mirror, liked it, and dictated to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet the Decree on the Abolition of Capital Punishment in peacetime (replacing it with a new maximum term of twenty-five years--it was a good pretext for introducing the so-called quarter).
But our people are ungrateful, criminal, and incapable of appreciating generosity. Therefore, after the rulers had creaked along and eked out two and a half years without the death penalty, on January 12, 1950, a new decree was published that constituted an about-face: "In view of petitions pouring in from the national republics [the Ukraine?], from the trade unions [oh, those lovely trade unions; they always know what's needed],
from peasant organizations [this was dictated by a sleepwalker:
the Gracious Sovereign had stomped to death all peasant organizations way back in the Year of the Great Turning Point], and also from cultural leaders [now, that is quite likely]," capital punishment was restored for a conglomeration of "traitors of the Motherland, spies, and subversives-diversionists." (And, of course, they forgot to repeal the quarter, the twenty-five-year sentence, which remained in force.) A-nd once this return to our familiar friend, to our beheading blade, had begun, things went further with no effort at all: in 1954, for premeditated murder; in May, 1961, for theft of state I 440 THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO property, and counterfeiting, and terrorism in places of imprisonment (this was directed especially at prisoners who killed informers and terrorized the camp administration); in July, 1961, for violating the rules governing foreign currency transactions;
in February, 1962, for threatening the lives of (shaking a fist at) policemen or Communist vigilantes, the so-called "druzhinniki";
then for rape; and immediately thereafter for bribery.
But all of this is simply temporary-until complete abolition.
And that's how it's described today toO. 7 And so it turns out that Russia managed longest of all without capital punishment in the reign of the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna.
• In our happy, blind existence, we picture condemned men as a few ill-fated, solitary individuals. We instinctively believe that we could never end up on death row, that it would take an outstanding career if not heinous guilt for that to happen. A great deal has still to be shaken up inside our heads for us to get the real picture: a mass of the most ordinary, average, gray people have languished in death cells for the most ordinary, everyday misdemeanors, and, although some were lucky and had their death sentences commuted, which was purely a matter of chance, they very often got the super (which is what the prisoners called "the supreme measure," since they hate lofty words and manage somehow to give everything a nickname that is both crude and short).
The agronomist of a District Agricultural Department got a death sentence for his mistaken analysis of collective farm grain!
(Maybe it was because his analysis wasn't what his chiefs wanted from him?) That was in 1937.
Melnikov, the chairman of a handicraft artel that made spools for thread, was sentenced to death because a spark from a steam engine in his artel had caused a fire! That was in 1937.
(True, his death sentence was commuted to a"tenner.") 7. "Osnovy Ugolovnogo Zakonodatelstva SSSR" (''Fundamental Principles of Criminal Legislation of the U.S.S.R."), Article 22, in Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR (Bulletin of the Supreme Soviet of the U.s.S.R.), 1959, No.1.
I 441 The Supreme Measure In that same Kresty Prison in Leningrad, in 1932, two of the men in death cells were Feldman, convicted of possessing foreign currency, and Faitelevich, a student at the conservatory, for having sold steel ribbon for pen points. Primordial commerce, the bread and butter and pastime of the Jew, had also become worthy of the death penalty.
Ought we to be surprised then that the Ivanovo Province village lad Geraska got the death penalty? In honor of the spring St. Nicholas holiday, he went off to the next village to celebrate;
he drank heavily and, with a stick, he hit the rear end-no, not of the policeman himself, but of the policeman's horse. (True, in a rage at the police he ripped a piece of board off the village soviet building and then yanked out the village soviet telephone by the cord, shouting: "Smash the devils!") Whether our destiny holds a death cell in store for us is not determined by what we have done or not done. It is determined by the turn of a great wheel and the thrust of powerful external circumstances. For example, Leningrad was under siege and blockade. And what would its highest-ranking leader, Comrade Zhdanov, think if there were no executions among the cases in Leningrad State Security during such, difficult times? He would think the Organs were lying down on the job, would he not?
Were there not big underground plots, directed from outside by the Germans, to be discovered? Why were such plots discovered under Stalin in 1919 and not under Zhdanov in 1942? No sooner ordered than done. Several ramified plots were discovered.
You were asleep in your unheated Leningrad room, and the sharp claws of the black hand were already hovering over you. And yet none of this depended on you. Notice was taken of a Lieutenant General Ignatovsky, whose windows looked, out on the Neva; he had pulled out a white handkerchief to blow his nose. Aha, a signal! Furthermore, because Ignatovsky was an engineer, he liked to talk about machinery with the sailors. And that clinched it! Ignatovsky was arrested. The time for reckoning came. Come on now, name forty members of your organization.
He named them. And so, if you happened to be an usher at the Aleksandrinsky Theatre, your chances of being named as one of his particular forty were minimal. But if you were a professor at the Technological Institute, there you were on that list (once I 442 THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO more, that accursed intelligentsia). So how could it depend on you? To be on such a list amounted to execution for each one.
And so they shot all of them. But here is how Konstantin Ivanovich Strakhovich, a very important Russian scientist in hydrodynamics, remained alive: Some even higher bigwigs in State Security were dissatisfied because the list was too small and not enough people were being shot. Therefore Strakhovich was selected as a suitable center for uncovering a new organization.
He was summoned by Captain Altshuller: "What's this all about?
Did you rush to confess everything so that you'd get shot and thereby conceal the underground government? What was your role in it?" Thus Strakhovich found himself in a new round of interrogations while he remained on death row. He proposed that they consider him the underground Minister of Education.
(He wanted to get it over with as soon as possible!) But that wasn't good enough for Altshuller. The interrogation continued, and by this time Ignatovsky's group was being executed. During one of the interrogation sessions Strakhovich got angry. It wasn't that he wanted to live but that he was tired of dying, and, more than anything else, the lies made him sick. And so while he was being cross-questioned in the presence of some Security police bigwig, he pounded on the table: "You are the ones who ought to be shot. I am not going to lie any longer. I take back all my testimony." And his outburst helped! Not only did they stop interrogating him, but they forgot about him in his death cell for a long time.
In all probability an outburst of desperation in the midst of general submissiveness will always help.
Thus many were shot-thousands at first, then hundreds of thousands. We divide, we multiply, we sigh, we curse. But still and all, these are just numbers. They overwhelm the mind and then are easily forgotten. And if someday the relatives of those who had been shot were to send one publisher photographs of their executed kin, and an album of those photographs were to be published in several volumes, then just by leafing through them and looking into the extinguished eyes we would learn much that would be valuable for the rest of our lives. Such reading, almost without words, would leave a deep mark on our hearts for all eternity.
I 443 The Supreme Measure In one household I am familiar with, where some former zeks live, the following ceremony takes place: On March 5, the day of the death of the Head Murderer, they spread out on the table all the photographs of those who were shot and those who died in camps that they have been able to collect-several dozen of them. And throughout the day solemnity reigns in the apartment
-somewhat like that of a church, somewhat like that of a museum. There is funeral music. Friends come to visit, to look at the photographs, to keep silent, to listen, to talk softly together.
And then they leave without saying good-bye.
And that is how it ought to be everywhere. At least these deaths would have left a small scar on our hearts.
So that they should not have died in vain!
And I, too, have a few such chance photographs. Look at
these at least:
Viktor Petrovich Pokrovsky-shot in Moscow in 1918.
Aleksandr Shtrobinder, a student-shot in Petrograd in 1918.
Vasily Ivanovich Anichkov-shot in the Lubyanka in 1927.
Aleksandr Andreyevich Svechin, a professor of the General Staff-shot in 1935.
Mikhail Aleksandrovich Reformatsky, an agronomist-shot in Orel in 1938.
Yelizaveta Yevgenyevna Anichkova-shot in a camp on the Yenisei in 1942.
How does all that happen? What is it like for people to wait there? What do they feel? What do they think about? And what decisions do they come to? And what is it like when they are taken away? And what do they feel in their last moments? And how, actually, do they... well... do they... ?