Posts tagged Magadan

Unwritten Places (Part III)

As I was going through the index of the book “Till My Tale is Told,” by Simeon Vilensky, I was writing down every prison or camp to make sense of it and tease out what I could that might be in Kazakhstan.  Here’s a fitting poem I came across that goes along with the poem “We’re Alive, We’re Alive!”

 “I write in the name of the living,

That they, in turn, may not stand

In a silent, submissive crowd

By the dark gates of some camp.”

Taganka – Moscow prison

Lubyanka – headquarters for Soviet Secret police  in central Moscow

Lefortovo – Moscow prison

Butyrki – largest Moscow prison

Solovki – special camp north of Moscow

Kazan – southeast on the Volga

Kolyma – Magadan, Sea of Okhotsk, Vladimir prison

Suzdal – like Solovki, a former monastery, northeast of Moscow

Verkhneuralsk prison

Elgen – women’s camp, 500 miles northwest and inland from Magadan


Narym – central Siberia

Yaroslavl prison

Shapalerka prison

Mariinsk camp farther west from Kolyma

You get the idea that there were LOTS of campus throughout the former Soviet Union. An oft spoken saying among those women in gulag camps after living through tedious drudgery day after day:  “It may be worse, but at least it’ll be different”

p. 112 – “What you suffer is not as important as what you learn from the experience.”

p. 271 – “…Eleanor Roosevelt knew about huge numbers of political prisoners in Soviet Union, had come to the country and asked to visit the camps and see for herself.  This request had been categorically refused.”

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Double Punishment for being a Captive Soldier in WWII

I continue to learn new things from my advanced Speaking class, sad things about death and repressions. What irony there is in life but it often happened in the former Soviet union, double punishment for fighting as a soldier in a war and being caught as a prisoner. One of my student’s grandfather on her mother’s side was arrested by a German officer and put in a German concentration camp.  After the war, the Kazakh soldier was released and he returned to Kazakhstan only to be put in a Soviet gulag camp according to Stalin’s orders.  After Stalin died in 1953, he was released and lived only another 8-10 years, he died in the early 1960s.

Another student said that his grandfather on his mother’s side wasn’t imprisoned, he somehow avoided prison.  But he did not avoid the police station every night for several years.  He was asked over and over again the same questions and by 1953, he was convinced he hated communists.  I asked if he was beaten or tortured.  No, he just had to answer the questions correctly otherwise he would have ended up in a Siberian concentration camp.

Another instance in the same family was the grandfather was an officer for the NKVD.  After the Great Patriotic War there were a lot of gangs with guns in the Pavlodar region and he had to interrogate those who were causing much unrest in the area.  He would have been on the opposite side of the table as the other grandfather as he was the head of this police station.

Another Kazakh student of mine is from the Karaganda area and she doesn’t know much about her own grandparents.  [this is typical because there was a strict code of silence for all those in Karaganda and especially those who were finally released from the KARLAG once Stalin died]  She said that many intellectual people were sent to Kazakhstan from all over the USSR to the Karaganda region and they helped develop and build the architecture of that city.  Many Japanese, Russians and other nationalities brought enrichment to this area because of their expertise. The very skills that had drawn attention to themselves in a favorable climate, won them disfavor in the eyes of the ruling Moscow elite.

She did remember that her mother’s older brother had driven a tank during WWII and when he returned from the war he worked in a mechanical factory or plant.  When he was alive still she was very small.  She did say that what was a prison for political prisoners in Karabass is now a prison for hardened criminals.

Another interesting story came from a woman whose mother’s uncle was a tall Kazakh man with BLUE eyes.  He was somehow so unusual in his appearance that a German officer didn’t put him in prison but rather he stayed in his big house and helped built things around the house.  He was good with wood and made things for three years while living in Germany.  This Kazakh man spoke German very well but upon his return to Kazakhstan he was directly sent to Magadan in Siberia.  He stayed there ten years and when he returned to his native town he built a beautiful home.  He died at the age of 95-96. This student remembers that he was a vigorous, proud man who didn’t stoop but had good posture the last time she saw him at age 92.  He walked with a cane but had the regal look of a decorated officer, perhaps like the German officer who had spared him from prison camp while in Germany.

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Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl (Part II)

Thanks to my Kazakhstani friend Yulia for fooling me with an April Fools joke yesterday. I was at my desk at work minding my own business at my computer when she peeked her head in at the door of my office and sternly asked, “Why aren’t you at the meeting?” Naturally, in my jetlagged state I started to panic and tried to think which committee meeting I was missing at that very moment. When she winked, I knew that I had been April Fooled. Yuliya admitted she had been pulling this same line all morning with her other teacher friends and getting a rise out of them. Obviously the climate at our university has made us all on high-level alert to not want to miss anything, especially important meetings, people are getting pink slipped left and right.

Yesterday I quoted some writing from Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl, 1932-1937 by Nina Lugovskaya. I will just share some of the books that this young girl read. Turns out she was arrested in March 16, 1937 as an 19 year old and in the 1940s she was married to an artist in Magadan where she and her husband had been sent as punishment. She became an artist instead of a writer and had her first one-woman show in 1977, how I would LOVE to see her paintings. She died in 1993 at 75 years of age and her husband died the following year. I suppose she was cured of doing any more writing when the NKVD confiscated her diary and claimed that she was an “Enemy of the People” at age 19!!! What a waste, because she had a great mind and was a very good writer in her teens.

Nina’s diary was her confidant and was perhaps therapy for her while her economist father had been exiled early in her life. I always maintain that my best writing students are the ones who enjoy reading. The following is what Nina read which helped her descriptive writing:

Feb. 15, 1933 Lermontov’s biography

May 5, 1933 Turgenev’s “Smoke”

Dec. 14, 1934 Teleshov’s “Without a Face”

Feb. 10, 1935 “I could read Chekhov forever” Ivanov, Treplev “The Seagull”

April 27, 1935 Gorky’s “Makar Chudra”

Sept. 3, 1935 Goncharov’s 1859 novel Oblomov is hero in this book

Sept. 23, 1935 Mikhail Pokrovsky – five volume history of Russia

June 27, 1936 Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time”

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Unedited Versions of Three Babushkis Stories

Yesterday we had three babushki ladies come to our classroom to tell their whole long life story in a short 15 minutes each.  A tall order for all three because eachof them has led such a rich life.  They are grateful to still be alive and were very happy to visit our university and meet the younger generation representative of Kazakhstan.  These ladies are lonely and living with their memories. It was as refreshing for them to tell their stories as it was for my students who eagerly soaked it in with their notetaking.  The following is Rahkhat’s account from what she wrote in English from her copious notes in Russian. 

#1 – Valentina Romanovna was born in 1930 in village. Her family consisted of 9 people: 3 died, 4 were living, but it couldn’t be called as living. During Great Patriotic War, the living conditions were very beggarly and often there was absolutely nothing to eat. She remembered when they had to eat seeds of flowers or even skin of some animals. They were all poisoned and subsequently it affected their health, because nowadays they are all having problems with stomach. It was really hard times!

Valentina was only 10 years old, when the war broke out. She actually finished the first class and that’s it. When it was very cold, nobody visited school, since there were no conditions to study at all. However the main reason of it is that she had to work together with adults. Her first job was working as a nurse in hospital, and then she worked as a teacher in kindergarten. There were times when she even had to look after calves, those of whom usually children are afraid of! Once one of her calves got sick, Valentina was to be judged or sent to an exile. She was stubborn girl and she decided to be sent to banishment, while her mother tried to convince her to go to chairman and to apologize to him. Eventually she stayed in kolkhoz.

For 13 years she had been working as a miner. At the age of 45 she was on a pension. She had 2 children: Anatoly, who was born in 1953 and Nicolay, two years older. Anatoly went to army in Vladivostok, unfortunately he died there. The second brother Nicolay was striving to revenge for his brother and also went to army, but unlike his sibling he returned home alive. 

Valentina and her son moved to Almaty. At that time, he had a daughter – Ira, who then gave birth to Lisa, his granddaughter. Lisa had huge physical and mental disabilities, she was invalid.  Once Nicolay went for hunting and there his boat was crushed by the river. She took her sister and they started to look for him, but in vain, this trip was fatal for him. Valentina’s husband drank a lot and he finally got cirrhosis of liver, which lead him to death. So, Valentina lost her husband and children, but she still had her mother, who lived for 100 years and 3 months. Valentina’s mother came to Almaty in order to be with her daughter. Today, Valentina has a brother and two sisters still living, one in Almaty and another in Moscow.

That’s just a brief story of Valentina Romanovna’s life. She has to be a really strong woman to endure all the difficulties of that time! She stood in front of us as a living example of a person who had a lot of grieves, who was able to overcome them and who wishes us, young generation peace, happiness and never see a war time!

#2 – Natalya Nikiforovna is about the same age as Valentina, or one year younger. She was born in Semipalatinsk region. She had one brother, who was 5 years younger. She said that her family didn’t suffer much from famine during the war, because they had their own vegetable garden and that was enough to feed the whole family. At the age of 10, Natalya had to mow hay in order to sustain a cow. She completed 7 years of study in school. Her father went to the front and there he was killed. Government didn’t give them any pension payments for him. They just received 20 rubles each – for her and her brother. Corn and cattle was taken from every family in order to sustain soldiers and those who directly was in the front and fought in battles against enemies. There was very popular slogan: “Everything for the front!”    

            At the age of 22, she worked as an accountant. Actually, she continued her education, having already two children. Overall, she spent 38 years of her life on working at two jobs. However, she earned a pension, which wasn’t fairly distributed, because government didn’t consider the length of her working experience, measured in years. She should have had received more in comparison to others, but she earned even less – 110 rubles, instead of 120!                

            Her daughter graduated two universities successfully in Moscow and Almaty. The year of 1946 is characterized as the year of the horrible event – start up of nuclear tests in Semipalatinsk proving ground. Natalya’s son gave birth to a boy with uncountable disabilities. Her daughter couldn’t give birth to a child for the same reason. This mistake of particular group of people led to terrible consequences for thousands of innocent people, which we can observe even today. Natalya said that there was one big family, where they had 4 girls born bandy-legged. It’s awful!  That’s the craziest thing that a human being could do with another human being! The creation of war is the biggest fault of humanity!

            During the speech, she had her tears coming again and again…


#3 – Raisa was born in 1932 in Kirov city, in the family of four members. In 1942 her father joined the Soviet Army, but was killed. He worked on a plant, which produced writing pens with feather. When fascists were coming to Kursk, they were evacuated and sent to Zabaikalie region. There they were given “kolkhoz house” and they immediately started to work. She was the eldest among her siblings. She was 10 years old when she began to look after calves. At the age of 13 she worked as a milkmaid. She finished only seven classes of school. In the mornings she helped her mother, in the afternoon – she did her job. Together with her little brother and sister they used to wear boots by turn. Other people, including their neighbors were always trying to support them, giving some clothes or something that they needed to have. She told us that sometimes parachutes landed from time to time in the place where they lived. So, her mother took pieces of material and sewed clothes for children. In summer, Raisa worked as a combine operator.

 Later, she got married and left her family, moving to Tashkent. There she finished medical college to be a nurse. Being educated, she was enabled to send money to her family. Afterwards, she got a second education in Ulan-Ude in agricultural college to become a zoo-technician. Then she was sent to the north of Magadan region, which is in Chukotka. Later on, she was chosen as deputy or national assessor.

Until now she had been bringing up her grandchild.

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Aidar’s Grandparents – Tragic Family Story

Reprisals of 30 years in the former USSR have been much talked about in each Soviet family. It is possible not to believe this first phrase, but actually it is the truth. My grandmother had suffered greatly in her early youth. She was 17 years old when she studied at the first year in Kazakh teacher training college (KazaPi) in Alma-Ata.  However, she was excluded from institute and from Komsomol «for communicating with enemies of the nation» – her own father and elder brother.

The father of my grandmother was a merchant who carried goods to the Russian cities – Petersburg and Ekaterinburg. He was very much a man of means. But in 30 years it had been dispossessed (all its condition had been expropriated). Earlier he had tried to go abroad with his family, but was detained, arrested and banished in Karlag. The brother of my grandmother was a  student of the Kazan University. But after the First World War, and then revolution in Russia, he was given possibility to finish the institute. He had returned home to Kazakhstan, he had accepted the new power of the Soviets and was engaged in creation of “red yurtas.”

The formed [collectivized] people like him wandered together with Kazakhs, taught them to read and write – attached to civilisation. But in 1937 he was arrested on charges of being involved in “anti-Soviet” activity and sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment. My grandmother had not only lost her father but now her elder brother and also her possibilities to graduate. Last time she saw her brother was on the railway platform where there was a structure built for the condemned. There were many people who cried out names of their relatives in hopes that someone would respond. She found her brother who asked to bring the newspapers to him. One of the security guards told her that the structure would stand until 6:00 in the morning of the next day.  However, when she returned the next morning with newspapers, the structure was not any more. At night it had been sent far on to the east.

My grandmother remained only with her mum and her younger brother. She got a job in the children’s home and continued to hope for the best. During all of 1937 she wrote letters to Stalin that her father and brother were innocent and condemned wrongly.  Thus, she was excluded from university. In 1938 there was a decision signed by Stalin in which it was decreed that children should not be responsible for their fathers. As a result of the edition of this order, many children of the condemned parents were restored to study and in the ranks of VLKSM. Among them there was also my grandmother.

Until the end of her life, she had been assured that Stalin did not know about the tragic destinies of children and when he had read their letters, he was strongly dissatisfied and was disposed to restore justice. Fortunately, her father did come back home, he had been released on amnesty.  But from her elder brother she had received only one letter in which he wrote that they were floating on the Ohot Sea in Magadan. He did not come back home.

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