«THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO Also by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn The Nobel Lecture on Literature August 1914 A Lenten Letter to Pimen, Patriarch of All Russia ...»
"You today, me tomorrow." They moved away and looked on indifferently while the condemned man was tied up, while he cried out for help, while they shoved a child's rubber ball into his mouth. (Now, looking at that child's ball, could one really guess all its possible uses? What a good example for a lecturer on the dialectical method!) Does hope lend strength or does it weaken a man? If the condemned men in every cell had ganged up on the executioners as they came in and choked them, wouldn't this have ended the executions sooner than appeals to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee? When one is already on the edge of the grave, why not resist?
But wasn't everything foredoomed anyway, from the moment of arrest? Yet all the arrested crawled along the path of hope on their knees, as if their legs had been amputated.
• Vasily Grigoryevich Vlasov remembers that night after he'd been sentenced when he was being taken through dark Kady, and four pistols were brandished on four sides of him. His main thought was: "What if they shoot right now, as a provocation, claiming I was trying to escape?" Obviously he didn't yet believe in his sentence. He still hoped to live.
They confined him in the police room. He was allowed to lie down on the desk to sleep, and two or three policemen kept continuous guard by the light of a kerosene lamp. They talked among themselves: "I kept listening and listening for four days, and I never could understand what they were being condemned for." "It's not for us to understand."
Vlasov lived in this room for five days: they were waiting for an official confirmation of the verdict in order to execute them right there in Kady; it was not easy to convoy the condemned men to some other point. Someone sent a telegram for Vlasov requesting pardon: "I do not admit my guilt, and I request that my life be spared." There was no reply. During these days Vlasov's hands shook so that he could not lift his spoon to his I 450 THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO mouth and, instead, picked up his bowl and drank directly from it. Klyugin visited him to jeer. (Soon after the Kady case, he was transferred from Ivanovo to Moscow. That year saw swift ascendancies and swift declines among those crimson stars of the Gulag heaven. The time was approaching when they, too, would be hurled into that same pit, but they didn't know it.) Neither confirmation nor commutation of the sentence arrived, so they had to take the four condemned men to Kineshma. They took them in four one-and-a-half-ton trucks, with one condemned man guarded by seven policemen in each truck.
In Kineshma they were put in the crypt of a monastery.
(Monastery architecture, liberated from monkish ideology, was very useful for us.) At this point some other condemned prisoners were added to their group, and they were all taken in a prisoners' railroad car to Ivanovo.
In the freight yard in Ivanovo they separated three from the rest-Saburov, Vlasov, and one of the men from the other group
-and immediately took the others away-to be shot-so as not to crowd the prison any further. And thus it was that Vlasov said farewell to Smimov.
The three others were put in the courtyard of Prison No. 1 in the dank and raw October air and held there for four hours while they led out, led in, and searched other groups of prisoners in transit. There still was no actual proof that they wouldn't be shot that very day. During those four hours, they had to sit there on the ground and think about it. At one point Saburov thought they were being taken to be shot, but they were actually taken to a cell instead. He did not cry out, but he gripped his neighbor's arm so hard that the latter yelled with pain. The guards had to.drag Saburov and prod him with their bayonets.
There were four death cells in this prison-in the same corridor as the juvenile cells and the hospital cells! The death cells had two doors: the customary wooden door with a peephole and a door made of iron grating; each door had two locks, and the jailer and the block supervisor each had a key to a different one, so the doors could be opened only by the two together. Cell 43 was on the other side of a wall of the interrogator's office, and at night, while the condemned men were waiting to be executed, their ears were tormented by the screams of prisoners being tortured.
I 451 The Supreme Measure Vlasov was put into Cell 61. This was a cell intended for solitary confinement, sixteen feet long and a little more than three feet wide. Two iron cots were anchored to the floor by thick iron bolts, and on each cot two condemned men were lying, their heads at opposite ends. Fourteen other prisoners were lying crosswise on the cement floor.
Though it has long been well known that even a corpse has a right to three arshins of earth (and even that seemed too little to Chekhov), in this cell each of the condemned had been allotted, while waiting for death, a little less than a third of that!
Vlasov asked whether executions were carried out immediately. "See for yourself. We've been here for ages and we're still alive."
The time of waiting began-of the well-known kind: the prisoners didn't sleep all night long; in a state of total depression, they waited to be led out to death; they listened for every rustling in the corridor. (And the worst thing was that endless waiting destroys the will to resist.) Particularly nerve-racking were the nights following a day on which someone received a commutation of sentence. He went off with cries of happiness, and fear thickened in the cell. After all, rejections as well as commutation had rolled down from the high mountain that day. And at night they would come for someone.
Sometimes the locks rattled at night and hearts fell: Is it for me? Not me! ! And the turnkey would open the wooden door for some nonsense or other: "Take your things off the window sill."
That unlocking of the door probably took a year off the lives of all nineteen inmates; maybe if that door was unlocked a mere fifty times, they wouldn't have to waste bullets! But how
grateful to him everyone was because everything was all right:
"We'll take them off right away, citizen chief!" After the morning visit to the toilet, they went to sleep, liberated from their fears. Then the jailer brought in the pail of gruel and said: "Good morning!" According to prison rules, the inner, iron door was supposed to be opened only in the presence of the duty officer for the prison. But, as is well known, human beings are better and lazier than their rules and instructions, and in the morning the jailer came in without the duty officer and greeted them quite humanly-no, it was even more precious than that: "Good morning!" I 452 THE GULA.G ARCHIPELAGO To whom else on all the earth was that morning as good as it was to them! Grateful for the warmth of that voice and the warmth of that dishwater, they drifted off to sleep until noon.
(They ate only in the morning!) Many were unable to eat when they woke during the day. Someone had received a parcel. Relatives might or might not know about the death sentence. Once in the cell, these parcels became common property, but they lay and rotted there in the stagnant damp.
By day there was still a little life and activity in the cell.
The block supervisor might come around--either gloomy Tarakanov or friendly Makarov-and offer paper on which to write petitions, and ask whether any of them who had some
money wanted to buy smokes from the commissary. Their questions seemed either too outrageous or extraordinarily human:
the pretense was being made that they weren't condemned men at all, was that it?
The condemned men broke off the bottoms of matchboxes, marked them like dominoes, and played away. Vlasov eased his tension by telling someone about the Consumer Cooperatives, and his narrative always took on a comic touch. 10 Yakov Petrovich Kolpakov, the Chairman of the Sudogda District Executive Committee, a Bolshevik since the spring of 1917 who joined up at the front, sat for dozens of days without changing his position, squeezing his head in his hands, his elbows on his knees, always staring at the same spot on the wall. (It must have been so jolly
to recall the spring of 1917.) Vlasov's garrulity irritated him:
"How can you?" And Vlasov snapped back at him: "And what are you doing? Preparing yourself for heaven?" Vlasov spoke with round "o's" even in a fast retort. "For myself, I've decided one thing only. I'm going to tell the executioner: 'You alone, not the judges, not the prosecutors, you alone are guilty of my death, and you are going to have to live with it! If it weren't for you willing executioners, there would be no death sentences!' So then let him kill me, the rat!" Kolpakov was shot. Konstantin Sergeyevich Arkadyev, the former Manager of the Aleksandrov District Agricultural Department in Vladimir Province, was shot. Somehow, in his case,
10. His stories about the consumer cooperatives are remarkable and deserve to be published.
I 453 The Supreme Measure the farewells were particularly hard. During the night six guards came tramping in for him, making a big rush of it, while he, gentle, well mannered, kept turning around, twisting his cap in his hands, putting off the moment of his leavetaking-from the last people on earth for him. And when he said his final "Farewell," you could hardly hear his voice.
At the very first moment, when the victim has been pointed out, the rest are relieved (It's not me!). But right after he/has been taken away, the ones left behind are in a state that is hardly any easier to bear than his. All the next day, those left behind are destined to silence and they won't want to eat.
However, Geraska, the young fellow who broke up the building of the village soviet, ate well and slept a lot, getting used to things, even here, with typical peasant facility. He somehow couldn't believe they would shoot him. (And they didn't. They commuted his sentence to a tenner.) Several of the inmates turned gray in three or four days before their cellmates' eyes.
When people wait so long for execution, their hair grows, and orders are given for the whole cell to get haircuts, for the whole cell to get baths. Prison existence goes on, without regard to sentences.
Some individuals lost the ability to speak intelligibly and to understand. But they were left there to await their fate anyway.
Anyone who went insane in the death cell was executed insane.
Many sentences were commuted. It was right then, in that fall of 1937, that fifteen- and twenty-year terms were introduced for the first time since the Revolution, and in many cases they replaced the executioners' bullets. There were also commutations to ten-year sentences. And even to five years. In the country of miracles even such miracles as this were possible: yesterday he deserved to be executed, and this morning he gets a juvenile sentence; he is a minor criminal, and in camp he may even be able to move around without convoy.
V. N. Khomenko, a sixty-year-old Cossack captain from the Kuban, was also imprisoned in their cell. He was the "soul of the cell," if a death cell can be said to have a soul: he cracked jokes;