December 6, 1937. No one will ever know how I made it through
the year 1937. No one will know because not a single day of my
life this year has been illuminated in this so-called diary, I
can't even recall the details of my life in this year myself,
and if everything turns out all right, and there are only 3 more
weeks to go, I'll cross it out like an unnecessary page, I'll
cross it out and banish it from my mind though the black spot
the massive ugly black spot like a thick blood stain on my
clothes, will be with me most likely for the rest of my life.
It will remain because my life during these 341 days of 1937
has been as ugly and disgusting as the clotted blood that oozes
out in a thick red mass from under the corpse of a man dead from
the plague. The feeling a man has who's not used to the sight of
blood and sees a scene like that or recalls it, that's what I
experience when I go through my memories of this past year.
A painful and disgusting year. Or rather, my life this year
has been painful and disgusting. Maybe it always seems that way,
that the unpleasant experience you're going through at the
moment is worse than anything you've been through before, but it
really does seem to me that this year was if not the worst of
all the years I've ever been through at least it was one of the
most painful ones. It leaves a miserable impression. It seems to
me that the noose around my neck keeps getting pulled tighter
and tighter every year. It feels like it's tightening more and
more rapidly, at a regularly increasing rate and that it keeps
getting proportionately tighter and tighter at the same time,
for example I can't remember a time this year when the noose
around my throat was loosened and I was given even a day to
breathe freely, filling my chest with air.
Maybe I won't be able to express the intensity of the grief
that I experienced this year, but I have to say that I expect
the noose to tighten even more in the near future, maybe I won't
be able to express it all or I won't have the patience to write
it all down, for it's all too disgusting, but if I wondered
whether it was worth going on living, I'd have to say there
wasn't much pleasant or sweet in my life. Right now I am calm
and that's why I can just move the pen across the paper, tracing
the curving letters of these not altogether pleasant words.
Naming the things I've been through.
Mama hardly worked at all all year and I didn't get a
stipend. We lived off Kostya and his money.
I finished the school year with terrible marks and I still
haven't dealt with all the consequences.
When I came back from vacation I brought Lyvaveta's Anya with
me. I went through all kinds of trouble and worry getting her a
residence permit and setting her up in school, and when I got
everything finally worked out I had to send her back, because of
her parents. Her father came to Moscow and tried to establish a
place for himself so he could settle here permanently, but he
got sick. He spent 2 months in the hospital and left
I lost all my good friends and my friends from the institute
and was left all alone. Solitude is no fun. I completely wore
out my clothes. I had no shoes and nothing to wear for every day
much less for special occasions, and there were many days when I
didn't eat a single crust of bread and had to walk to the
institute because I didn't have the 10 kopecks tram fare.
That's all just the general scheme of things, it doesn't say
anything about my feelings, but what I went through each time
something happened in the overall scheme of things and my
situation in general drove me to despair. If you add in the
daily squabbling with my mother for when there's something wrong
in a family there's almost always a lot of fighting, that would
give a little rough sketch of what my life has been like
Add to everything else the fact that I'm going to have to
drop out of the institute with my current situation being what
it is, and even someone who's not in the know about what I've
been through will understand that things really don't look too
great for the guy and little by little the psychologist will
agree! I have to get through this, it's not easy, it's not easy
at all. Life is not easy, damn it.
Of course I don't care about living for my own personal
pleasure for it's nothing but trouble, but I take some comfort
in the need to go on with my life just out of curiosity, to find
out what will come next. Well why not, live and learn, you can
always stop living but you can only do that one time.
12/18/1937. The noose around my neck gets tighter every day.
It's getting harder and harder to breathe, the air stinks and
the rotten smell gets worse with each passing day. There's a
Ukrainian saying that captures a whole philosophy of life's
misfortunes in just a few words. "You've got the runs, all
you need now is the cough." All I needed for my state of
mind to be complete, with things going the way they were in
general and at the institute in particular--and I was already
completely broke–was the final blow, and it came December 9 of
From conversations with people who live in our apartment
building we heard some alarming news that certain people from
the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department (MUR) were very
interested in the people we've been associating with and that
they were gathering information about Mama. There was talk of a
search and they said Mama was going to be arrested.
Unfortunately we were not able to take complete advantage of the
loose tongues among our domestic secret service--that is we did
not draw the necessary conclusions. Or rather I drew a
conclusion. I took some preventive measures, but Mama didn't do
anything herself. I recommended that for the time being we leave
the apartment and sleep in someone else's apartment until the
end of the election campaign.
Judging from the way things were done in 1935-36 we knew that
such things as exiles from Moscow were done 10-15 days before
the October or May holidays, and in this case that meant the
elections on December 12 and the voting in May and Mama took
comfort in the fact that there was less time left.
Our mistake was that we expected to be exiled but not by any
means arrested for there was no basis to assume something that
extreme. Well, policies change and it's not my fault that all
these decisions are made in secret, I personally hadn't come
across such a case before.
Of course I've heard a lot of rumors about various people
being arrested, no one is surprised by this anymore, but I just
couldn't in my wildest dreams imagine my mama a semiliterate
woman being called a Trotskyite, since I know her very well, and
even in a fit of the worst possible suppositions I couldn't
imagine that for old sins and what the newspapers call
"former activities," with her living such a clean life
now, that for old sins like that she would be arrested. There
wasn't any ground for suspecting that. Of course I expected us
to be exiled any day.
What happened was on the night of 12/9 at 4:00 the caretaker
came over with an armed representative of the Fourth Section of
the MUR and conducted a search after showing his personal
identification and a search warrant. All indications were,
judging by the way he was going about the search, that he was
looking for weapons. Naturally he didn't find anything, as he
wrote down on his form, and then he invited Mama to put on her
coat and come down to the MUR with him for a minute; first he
took her passport and put it in his pocket. Mama didn't have
time even to get properly dressed for the cold or to pick up any
money, even a kopeck, and she just stood there in the room,
terrified by the unexpected shock, all pale with wandering,
uncomprehending eyes, undoubtedly sensing instinctively that she
would never see this beloved room again. She gazed around
silently and couldn't find a word to say in parting.
She glanced around again and looked at me with her eyes
pleading and inquiring at the same time, she wanted to ask or
maybe say something but she didn't say a word and just held out
her hand for me to clasp, and holding back her tears, forcing
herself, with the last bit of strength she had left, to be brave
and not to show any weakness in the last parting minute, she
turned her head and followed the deputy and the caretaker to the
door. I gathered my last strength, trying to keep my spirits up
and hers at the same time with a carefree and happy expression
on my face and making little joking comments, I said don't stay
away too long and be back in time for tea, but in my own soul I
knew that we wouldn't see each other for a long time. She knew
it too and I saw it in her eyes that she understood that I was
just putting on a clever act so as not to play out our parting
scene with tears which wouldn't help at all but would just upset
I took another look at her bent back, she already had turned
from me, at her old coat, I caught a glimpse of the tattered
backs of her felt boots before they vanished into the black
cavity of the outer door. Since I was barefoot and just had my
undershorts on and so as not to get into a tearful scene I
didn't go out to see her off.
12/19/1937. Exactly 10 days have passed since Mama was
invited to go down "for a minute" to the 4th Section
of the MUR and that was the last I saw of her. Not only did I
not see her; I didn't even manage to find out where she was. . .
Naturally the question arises as to why people are being put
There are various reasons. For robbery, drunkenness, drunken
brawling, for previous convictions, for a word spoken at the
wrong time and place, but many people just don't know the
reason. He was arrested and there he is in prison and I don't
know why. Maybe he knows, but if he doesn't well then the person
in charge of his case or the one who signed his arrest order
ought to. A man is not always in control of his fate.
There used to be a saying, "We are all under the will of
god." Now this saying goes, "We are all under the will
of the NKVD." Oh, what a life! Nothing but trials and
tribulations and there's no end in sight.
1/11/1938. There's so much for us to bear and endure, both me
and Mama. I was so shaken by today's news that I forgot all my
elegant expressions. I can't think straight, only isolated words
burst from my chest.
I got to see her today in "Moscow Prison No. 3," as
they call it officially. Tears streamed down from her aged,
wrinkled eyes, she had trouble getting the words out. "The
NKVD troika has sentenced me to eight years." How horrible,
8 years. It's so easy to pronounce, but so hard to live through.
And for what?! The official category is "for concealing
social origins," but how can you call it concealing when
all the official powers knew about her social origin all the way
back in 1934. And they say that there is justice in this world.
There is no justice in the world anymore, justice died together
with the good people, and the devil will leave in peace the
scoundrels. The law. I'm not an anarchist by nature and I
respect the law, but how can such injustice be done in the name
of the law. They consider her a danger to society. You'd think
they'd caught a bandit, but even bandits get lighter sentences
than that. Well, so what, you can't break down a stone wall with
just your head. Can this be the end of justice on earth. No
there will be justice. Many people have perished in the name of
justice, and as long as society exists, people will be
struggling for justice. Justice will come. The truth will come.