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18 November 2018


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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Final Diary Entries Before Arrest

by Ilya Venyavkin (Editor)
Translation by Brendan Kiernan

In cooperation with the “Lived” Project, Arzamas selected personal diary entries written immediately before their authors were arrested during the Great Terror. Almost all of these diaries were kept in the FSB Archive – the principal source of information for historians working on the events of 1937 – 1938.

Nina Lugovskaya, student

 

Photograph from Nina Lugovskaya’s file © N.S. Lugovskaya. Khochu zhit’… From a schoolgirl’s diary. 1932-1937. M., 2003, 3 January 1937

Three words about New Years. It was lively and cheerful enough, though it could have been better. And some enjoyed it more than I did, as an outsider after all, but I was fine. [Nina and her older sister Olga celebrated New Year's in the students' dormitory.] Maybe I’ve changed, maybe I look more like an adult, but I spoke with them like an equal, and didn’t feel awkward. I wasn’t alone. LaLa knew the others as poorly as I did, so we stayed together. I quickly got along with two or three young people and felt completely comfortable. The wine made us happier and more outgoing, made us laugh and feel like we belonged. But the whole evening (I do not count the morning) left the fuzzy impression of something that was nice, pleasant, and full of friendliness and fellowship. Hints of tenderness, the warm touching of hands, gentle smiles, or close smiling looks have content that words cannot express. When you drink a few glasses of wine, the first new feeling is closesness to those around you and the disappearance of obstacles that you felt  the day before, and will feel the next day, but then you feel near and dear. Who has not felt the pleasure, as if your head were spinning, from the grasp of a firm male hand; or suddenly felt someone gently taking you by the shoulder; or stood with someone in a room, talking and looking into their beautiful, expressive face. This may be drunken excitement, but it is beautiful and innocent.”

The diary was confiscated during a search on 4 January 1937.  Nina Lugovskaya was arrested on 16 March, accused of counter-revolutionary activity and was sentenced to five years in the camps.

 

Nikolai Nokolayevich Yevdokim, senior telegraph mechanic, bibliophile

20 March 1937

A clear day. Daytime air temperature +4 R. Atmospheric pressure 777.5 mm.  There is frightful theft of all kinds by our dizzy-headed tyrants in the Kremlin, especially essential and indispensible things, such as medicine. Recently it has grown 1000% more expensive.

21 March 1937

Air temperature +3 R. Т[емпература] в[оздуха] +3 °R. Atmospheric pressure 777.8 mm.  Д[авление] в[оздуха] 777,8 мм. Today, like yesterday, was clear…

Arrested 21 March 1937, convicted of counter-revolutionary activity, and shot on 27 January 1938.

 

Alexander Arosev, Soviet diplomat

Alexander Arosev, © Wikimedia Commons

Marvelous weather. Perfect. Looked over the dacha under construction. Seems like there will not be enough money.  Need to write more.

Crossed Moscow in the evening to Astafev, to see my son. I am painfully sorry for my daughters. Their thoughts and moods are not my own.

A car sent by Molotov came by “The Pines” for Maltsev. Molotov invites him without fail on every off day.

Letter to Comrade Molotov. Copies to Comrade Tal and the editor of Izvestiya.

Attached are materials from the meeting of the All-union Pushkin Committee, and also a clipping from the newspaper Pravda from 30 January, which make it clear that on 29 January 1937, at a meeting of the committee mentioned above, two reports were given: one by Comrade Bubnov, the other my own. Izvestiya found space to mention only the first report. As concerns my report, the very fact of its occurrence went unmentioned. Meanwhile, the report was on a theme which may interest Izvestiya’s readers, namely the forthcoming celebration of Pushkin’s anniversary outside the USSR. A foreign or Soviet reader might conclude from Izvestiya’s coverage that the All-Union Pushkin Committee is entirely unconcerned with whether Pushkin’s anniversary will be marked by peoples outside the USSR.

This situation would not deserve even the attention of this letter, if the failure to note my official report at an official meeting had not occurred in some kind of odd, official account, if Izvestiya had not already published my information concerning preparation for celebrations of Pushkin's anniversary abroad, but… without my signature. The absence of my signature was explained by a production error.

Does this production error also explain the absence of an account of the meeting of the All-union Pushkin Committee, where my report was discussed, an account that was prepared in an identical manner by the All-Union Pushkin Committee for all newspapers?”

Arrested 3 July 1937, shot on 10 February 1938.

 

Nikolai Vasilyevich Ustriyalov, philosopher

Nikola Ustriyalov, © Sakharov Center

Sometime you think:
— How wonderful it would be not to think!

In reality, there is something unnerving and tiresome in the very process of thought. There is an expression: “obsessive thoughts.” But is it not the case that every thought is, to some extent, “obsessive”? The thought process, to a significant degree, is itself spontaneous. You may want to extinguish it, like a candle, but you can’t. “Black thoughts, like flies, stinging, buzzing, circling…”

But on the other hand, in nature is thought not an inner light, capable of battling the darkness of these black flies? Of course it is.

But, apparently, it is just this battle of light and dark in the apparatus of our brain that exhausts it, wears it out, runs it down. Light conquers but the apparatus is broken for good.”

How nice it would be not to think! Of course, this is nonsense. It is the same as saying: “how nice it would be not to live.”  Because cogito ergo sum. Therefore, there remains only: light, more light! Mehr Licht!

12:40 pm

Arrested 6 June 1937, shot 14 September 1937.

 

Maria Anisimovna Svanidze, singer 

Maria Svanidze (standing on the right) with her family, © Photograph from Life, 15 September 1967

I pick up a pen but know not where to begin. It is difficult to resurrect the events of these past months. They have turned out so catastrophically that only a daily record could document them. Unending arrests of well known people who for years were among our country’s best, who did great work, who were trusted, and received many awards, but who turned out to be enemies of our way of life, traitors, bought by our enemies. I do not want to write in light tones. I want simply to express my embarassment and confusion.

How could everyone overlook this, how could it happen, that an enemy element bloomed in such rich color, what is the reason for and content of this conversation? Often, I, walking down the street and gazing at people and faces, think: where did they hide, how could it happen that millions of people were masked, people who, by their social position, educations, and psyches could not accept the Soviet way of life, could not march in step with workers and the poor peasantry, in step with socialism and communism?

These chameleons, on the 20th anniversary of the revolution, were uncovered,  costumes and all. Neither elementary honesty, nor patriotism, nor even a purely animalistic loyalty to their state can be found in them. To sabotage, to sell out, to whisper, to hate, to betray, anything but the prosperity of the most just social order. Oh, how the alien and hostile snuggled to the breast of the party during the revolution, and, like ticks, attached and fed, perched on the commanding heights, disguised at first, thought to be loyal, and later, after finding one another and uniting, growing bold, and, fortunately, becoming visible, but, in truth, way too late, since they had already succeeded in organizing and bring much harm to the country. A difficult mood was created. Mistrust and suspicion, and what was surprising, when yesterday's familiar faces, who for many years lied and wore masks, turned out to be enemies. In truth, the majority of traitors and saboteurs had always been corrupt, people whom I had little sympathy for, whose charms I could not endure, since I had never had any kind feelings for any of the unmasked criminals and had felt ill when I met them, or even, say, welcomed them into my home. All this has been going on for a year now…”

Arrested in December 1937, shot 3 March 1942.


Andrei Stepanovich Arzhilovsky, peasant in the Chervishev district near Tyumen

27 June 1937

After unseasonable cold it finally got warmer: we just had a warm rain and it is turning to mushroom-sprouting weather. I have been putting in some very tough work days and scolding the boys for their impracticality. My scolding, of course, is useless: no amount of rough treatment can break through their meek reserve. The street urchins push my timid kids around! We live half-starved.”

Diary confiscated upon arrest on 29 August 1937. Andrei Arzhilovsky was shot on 5 September 1937 as a member of a “kulak sabotage group.”

 

Olga Berggolts, poet

Photograph from the case file of Olga Bergolts © Архив Управления Федеральной службы безопасности по Санкт-Петербургу и Ленинградской области

5 May 1938

A devilish situation. I am convinced that I will be completely embarrased by exams, or more accurately, almost convinced because there is also something that suggests that victory is possible. But where does this vulgar, self-satisfied little thought come from? Is it not clear from the latest test I gave that the kids know nothing, that I have given them nothing? Oh, well, fine. After all, I worked sincerely. I am not guilty for my inexperience, which I have overcome, nor are the outrageous conditions of a soviet school something that I can change.  Mornings, I am in a terrible mood, feeling oppressed and angry at everything and everyone, and not only in the morning. The protocols from the party inspection committee have still not come back from Moscow, and I am in a sort of undefined state.  This is also outrageous. Thet they are stretching things out. After all, it has been four months since the Central Committee's decree… No. No one cares about me! And if we are not renewed, will something be changed, etc.? How tiring it is, my god, how tiring. Just a bit more time, some patience, I tell myself, waiting for the exam results and the protocols (after all it cannot take another two months?) and things will be easier. Even if things do not work out for Koktebel… In truth, Siverskaya and Kolkina enjoy it more, with its tourists, whom I do not like and anger me, but nonethess it is not school. Maybe we will be able to go somewhere near Yalta. I want to be alone, away from Leningrad and without Kolya, even for just a short time. What a bastard that Sashka Stein is, fabricating the tale that I “had been telling people that Bespamyatnov had been let go,” behaving impertinently, despite the fact that he already had been caught in a lie, about how to finish him off?  Oh how I dislike these nasty little people!... It also is unclear what will happen with the school? I cannot take this load, but will they agree to less? Nothing is clear, everything is disgusting…”

Arrested 13 December 1938 as a participant in a “Trotsky-Zinoviev organization and terrorist group.” Released and rehabilitated on 3 June 1939.

 

Yulia Yosifvna Sokolova-Pyatnitskaya, engineer

28 May 1938

I did not leave my room and did not make lunch, and barely fed Vovka. Vova relaxed the whole time and did not study, although he went for a consultation. After yesterday’s horror, and a headache, I was weak and numb: I feel nothing, but the emptiness is also painful. I know only one thing, that without a job it will be impossible: I will do something stupid, or lose my mind, though perhaps I may already be ill. I have forgotten how to speak. I may not be able to work any longer, perhaps I have forgotten everything. After all, it is better to be executed once than constantly degraded, spit upon, and deprived of rights with the theoretical possibility of exercising all of the rights in the Stalin constitution…  After all there were months when my head was clear. I got ahold of myself and tried to fight for my life, I had no conflicts with Soviet power. But something new happened: either I am sick or I need to be isolated from fellow citizens. In newspapers I see much that is despicable, and when I look on the street, I see everything is being overturned…

After thinking about Igor, I want to protest and need to protest, but it is also not possible, and harmful to protest now: people make mistakes but they do what is necessary, without which Soviet power could be dealt a strong blow. So the shole complex of these considerations, feelings, and impressions from facts make the conditions of existence… If I am not arrested tomorrow I will go to the People’s Commisariat… Vovka has an exam. I found something out about Vovka and night cannot lay still last night. It’s torture. I asked him while he ate breakfast: “Vova, did Loginov make a present of that pen?” – “No.” – “How did you do such a vile thing, a crime: you took my keys the other day, to see what you could see, and, not saying a word to me, took the one single thing that remained from your father, his pen, and now it is lost.” - “I don’t know why I did it.” – “But where is the pen?” - “I don’t know.” I calmy, but sternly, spoke to him about what he'd done, and in truth I cannot love him, cannot cherish him the same as Igor. And after what he did I do not love him at all. In the past few days he came from the Loginovs quite happy, leaping, took the pen from my pocket and said to me: “Zhenya’s papa gave it to me.” I thought it a bit odd, but since they almost always have wine and often have guests, I decided that he probably had been drunk and given it to Vova. After all, he is a certain type of man: they have entirely too much, and spend five rubles per day on their family. They had a conversation about this, apparently, in front of Vova, and Vova is impressionable: he listens to everything, and he lied to me, and was mean… We do not need to be sorry for him, do not need to hold him dear. This is hard to express but I must be freed from my maternal feeling, after all he will be a citizen, let society educate him – despite my insistence on discipline and my efforts to make him a man, working with him is impossible. I did not speak with Vovka today. Why he acted this way is unclear to me. But what he has done is extremely low. Until now I had not seen this from him. Perhaps a psychiatrist would attribute it to […] the painful, joyless, and uniquely cruel condition in which Vova has lived for 10 months…Today, new residents moved in with us, into the room with K.I.: a grandmother (mother of the arrested Tkachev) and her granddaughter. The granddaughter, an only child of 14 years, is quite spoiled, and the grandmother’s wits are not up to the task… Outside, it was unusually lively all day. First, in the morning they brought out confiscated items from the third entry, then the first, and then the second entry got a new family with four members: a young woman, two children not yet 10 years old, and a young employee of the NKVD. He had already managed to “get paid.” Three enormous truckloads of things. Stylish furniture, expensive, enormous mirrors, a piano, all sorts of trunks, tables, and some sort of white beds. Eight workers came from his department. The owner, armed and fussing around “his” things, was small, vile, and waddled. The things are still in the yard now, they have not been carried in. It all is remarkably well packed, but they are opening things right in the yard. This started at two in the afternoon, and it is already after midnight. Such open actions are revolting. One remembers how things were confiscated, how they cam for Pyatnitsky’s pants, how they took a radio and bicycle from Igor, how they felt the collar of my coat, apparently sorry that it was a woman’s, how they took in hand Pyatnitsky’s last coat. As they said: “For now, use the wardrobe, the mirror, and what is left in your room; how, in the end, three men forced me, in Pyatnitsky’s looted apartment, during the confiscation, while they compiled a list, to sign to confirm that there were no grounds for accusations against the NKVD concerning the items. While I was reading the items that had been listed I was terribly upset to see that the amount of linens taken from Pyatnitsky were significantly undercounted, and that a whole number of small items, such as Igor's clock, pens, and various electrical items, small, nice things, a suitcase, and other items, were not on the list. I took more time than was needed, then tried to refuse to sign, and they threatened me: “Well then you will not get anything.” It was then that I realized, that for them to return the things taken from me, Pyatnitsky… I signed with such a horrible feeling. This was all on 6 December and 30 December, and I did not understand at all what it meant, that Pyatnitsky's things would not be needed, that it would have been better for me not to sign anything – just so they knew that I did not accept such an attack. We had only our own things. Pyatnitsky wrote, I worked, he worked, and we lived very humbly. It was unlikely that his wife worked, it was unlikely that he could write anything, it was unlikely that he could live so humbly. Where did these things come from?

I thought they were confiscating things for the state, but as it turns out a large share, and apparently, the most valuable items are taken by those who work for the NKVD. Well, what is new in the existence of these people in this time of “battle”?.. The scariest thing for me is my growing distrust in the quality of people who are leading the invsetigations and have the right to make arrests. Of course I know that Yezhov and certain others, among them greater and lesser NKVB employees – wonderful, genuine people, are crusaders who do extraordinary, heavy duty but the majority... also do burdensome work as people of low character: stupid, vulgar people, capable of base acts. It very much troubles me that I am so inclined, but facts (things I have endured, things that I saw, little bits, things that one happens to hear from acquaintances, or while standing in line at the prison…) cannot allow any other attitude. Everything depends on whose paws you fall into: a person or a b…, to an intelligent person or a dope, to a cultured person or an ignoramous, to a real communist or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The sad thing is that you can wind up in the second category “just like that.”

I took good medicine three times. My head does not hurt (but I cannot, in truth, work), and my nerves are still on end, but I was able to watch and got angry. I must become completely insensitve. I think that when I start to work – and I must take care of myself, and get my own food, and cook – that is when I will be horribly tired, worried, numb. I will stop talking all the time of things that worry me, or, perhaps, not.  Now I barely eke out an existence, and see little. Working will be difficult, conflicts with people, but what types? New facts, a life with substance. I want to blurt it all out on paper, I'm already used to it, but Pyatnitsky is gone.  

He got… earsful from me, but I had no need to talk to anyone else, and won’t have any, unless perhaps someone from the NKVD. Despite everything, they are closer.

Arrested 27 October 1938 and accused on the basis of a diary of anti-Soviet agitation. Sentenced to five years in labor camps, died in 1940 while working as a ditch digger in a camp near Burtinsk.


Lived is a project aimed at collecting a complete electronic corpus of personal diaries written in Russian in the 20th century. Проект «Прожито»


Sources:

Аржиловский А. С. Дневник 36–37-го годов. Урал. № 3. 1992. 

Аросева О. А. Прожившая дважды. М., 2012.

Луговская Н. «Хочу жить!» Дневник советской школьницы. М., 2010.

Пятницкая Ю. И. Дневник жены большевика. Бенсон, 1987.

Дневник Ольги Берггольц, 1938 год. РГАЛИ. Ф. 2888. Оп. 1. Ед. хр. 354. Л. 43–45.

«Иосиф бесконечно добр…»: Дневник М. А. Сванидзе. Источник: Документы русской истории. № 1. 1993. 

«Исчез человек, и нет его, куда девали — никто не знает»: из конфискованного дневника Е. Н. Николаева. Источник. № 4. 1993. 

«Служить Родине приходится костями…»: Дневник Н. В. Устрялова, 1935–1937 годы. Источник. № 5–6. 1998.

 

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Arzamas and Russian Life

Translation of this article into English and its publication here and on the Arzamas Academy site is part of a collaboration between Russian Life magazine and Arzamas Academy. To read the original article in Russian, jump over here.