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Title: An island hell: A Soviet prison in the far north
Author: Malsagoff, S. A.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "An island hell: A Soviet prison in the far north" ***

Transcriber Note

Text emphasis denoted by _Italics_. Punctuation has been retained as
published in the original publication.


  An Island Hell:
  A Soviet Prison in the Far North
  By S. A. MALSAGOFF Translated by F. H. LYON




  Part I. (_Introductory_). — FROM BATOUM TO

  CHAPTER                                   PAGE
       I. A White Guard in the Caucasus      13
      II. A Famous "Amnesty"                 19
     III. Horrors of Tiflis Prison           27
      IV. Bound for the "Solovky"            33


       I. The Forerunners of the "Solovky"   43
      II. From Monastery to Prison Camp      52
     III. A Gallery of Tchekists             61
      IV. Popoff Island Camp                 74
       V. The Tyranny of the Criminals       83
      VI. "Counter-Revolutionaries"          94
     VII. Victims of the Tcheka: Some
              Strange Cases                 102
    VIII. "Politicals": A Favoured Class    117
      IX. The Women's Fate                  132
       X. Foreign Prisoners                 139
      XI. A "Change of Cabinet"             146
     XII. Daily Life, Work, and Food        151
    XIII. Hospital Horrors                  162
     XIV. How "Useful Citizens" are Made    169
      XV. How the Tchekists Live            176


       I. The Only Way Out                  183
      II. Laying our Plans                  188
     III. Our Flight: The First Stage       195
      IV. A Terrible March                  204
       V. Freedom                           213


I and my four companions left the Solovetsky Islands (called in this
narrative the "Solovky," the name by which they are commonly known) on
May 18th, 1925, and crossed the frontier between Russia and Finland on
June 15th. But it was not until eight days later that we reached Kuusamo
and ascertained positively that we were in Finland, so that our journey
lasted thirty-six days.

As I had supposed, I found that outside Soviet Russia the whole
circumstances in which those transported to the Solovetsky Islands are
compelled to live (or, it would be more correct to say, to die) — the
whole life, regime, conditions of labour, food, and the other internal
and external characteristics of the Solovky, were absolutely unknown.

The secrecy which enwraps the Solovky is quite comprehensible. The
Soviet papers, concealing the grim truth from Russian readers, pass the
Solovky by in complete silence. Foreign newspaper correspondents are not
allowed to go there. There had not been, till we got away, a single case
in which a prisoner had succeeded in escaping across the frontier,
whereby the public opinion of Europe could have learnt the truth about
the Solovky.

Providence thought fit to rescue me, by a miracle, from this place of
torment. And I count it my most sacred duty to tell the world what I
saw, heard and went through there.

These notes, of course, make no claim either to literary qualities and
beauty of style or to exhaustive completeness. I look upon them as the
testimony of a fair witness who speaks the truth and only the truth. And
if my testimony is recognised as worthy of consideration, and is
accepted as a part of that gigantic indictment which the Russian nation,
the whole of humanity, history and God will without doubt bring forward
against the Soviet power, I shall consider that my duty has been

In confirmation of my claim to have been, to the best of my power,
impartial in my exposition of the facts, I may say that when I showed
these notes to my comrades who escaped with me they were of opinion
that, in my description of the regime in the Solovetsky Islands, I had
in many cases been too moderate.

PART I (_Introductory_)




_Denikin's Failure — Guerilla Warfare — An Unexpected Blow — The Elusive
Tchelokaeff — A Treaty that is Observed._

Before proceeding to my main task — an account of the conditions in the
Soviet prisons in the Solovetsky Islands — I should like to dwell
briefly on the period of my life which immediately preceded my
transportation to that place. I think that this period is of more than
merely personal interest. As far as I know, the punitive activities of
the Soviet power in the Caucasus after the crushing of the armed
anti-Bolshevist rebellion there have not found a place in any book of

At the time of the final retreat of General Denikin's forces I was in
the ranks of the Caucasian Army (on the Tsaritsin front). The disaster
to the Volunteer Army compelled us all to take refuge in the mountains.
Keeping touch all the time with the attacking enemy, our cavalry brigade
reached the river Terek, where it was dissolved. The most reliable
elements of it crossed the frontier of Georgia, at that time still an
independent State.

In Georgia, the members of the brigade who were fit for service were
incorporated by Keletch Sultan Hire in a cavalry regiment. Its duties
were to execute raids on the Soviet rear and throw it into confusion, to
destroy roads and excite rebellion against the Bolsheviks.

The raid into the Kuban planned in the summer of 1920 by the staff of
General Wrangel, who was then in the Crimea with his army, gave Sultan
Hire the idea of sending us also to the Kuban in the hope of inciting
the Cossacks to rebellion. In the Kuban, we took part in the retirement
of the invading troops to the Crimea, the raid having considerably
outgrown its original dimensions. The bold plan of bringing about a
rising did not succeed. We were dissolved once more.

[Illustration: Map of the Caucasus]

In exceptionally difficult conditions, surrounded by troops of the Red
Army, we formed a new detachment under the command of Colonel X (I
cannot give the colonel's name; he is still carrying on guerilla warfare
with the Soviet power in the Caucasus). Our detachment, despite its
small numbers, waged warfare of a kind with success, and we were
beginning to think of operations on a larger scale, when we unexpectedly
lost the support on which we absolutely depended and counted; the famous
"national rebellion" took place in Georgia. In reality the country was
occupied, almost without resistance, by regular troops of the Red Army.
Our detachment retired fighting through the wild mountains to Batoum.
Here part of it was broken up and turned into larger or smaller bodies
of insurgents, part left for Anatolia.

I made my way to Ajaristan. Thence communication was established with
Trebizond, where Y lived; his name, too, I cannot give in full for the
reason stated above. Until the autumn of 1922 we and Y organised
frequent raids on the Soviet Russian frontier.

Then, as now, the unofficial direction of the whole insurgent movement
in the Caucasus was in the hands of the well-known Colonel Tchelokaeff.
Thanks to extensive help from the population, which sympathises with the
"Whites," and to his own bravery and skill, the Bolsheviks have found
Tchelokaeff quite uncatchable.

I know for a fact that the "Gruztcheka" (Georgian Tcheka) and
"Zaktcheka" (Trans-Caucasian Tcheka)[1] have repeatedly attempted to buy
him; they have repeatedly offered him huge sums in gold simply to leave
the Caucasus. They even offered him a villa in any country in Europe he
liked to name. The elusive colonel, however, rejected these proposals
with disgust, and is still carrying out surprise attacks on one or
another stronghold of the Soviet power in the Caucasus.

Between Tchelokaeff and the Communist authorities of the Caucasus a
peculiar treaty exists. The colonel's family has for several years been
confined in the Metekh[2] at Tiflis, a prison notorious for the
cruelties practised there. The Bolsheviks, of course, would have shot
them long ago, had not Tchelokaeff captured and hidden in a remote spot,
as hostages, several of the most prominent representatives of the Soviet

When the colonel heard that his family had been arrested, he sent the
following letter to the presidential body of the Georgian Tcheka:

"I shall send forty Communists' heads in a sack for each member of my
family murdered by you. — Colonel Tchelokaeff."

So the Tchelokaeff family and the Communist hostages are still alive.

[Footnote 1: i.e., _Gruzinskaya_ (Georgian) and _Zakavkazkaya_
(Trans-Caucasian) Tcheka.]

[Footnote 2: The former palace of the Georgian kings, used as a prison
for many years past.]



_My Foolish Credulity — A Boy Tchekist — Taken Out to be Shot — Mutual
Reprisals — A Gallant Mountaineer — Identified by an Imbecile._

In November, 1922, in honour of the anniversary of the October
Revolution in 1917, the Council of People's Commissaries of the
R.S.F.S.R.[3] (Russia then still lived under that pseudonym) extended a
full amnesty to all opponents of the Soviet power. This amnesty, which
was signed by the flower of the Communist Party, formally promised
complete oblivion of every manner of offence committed by White Guards
of all ranks and categories.

I cannot say how I, who knew better than anyone the value of Bolshevist
promises, who had waged a life-and-death struggle with the Soviet power
for so many years, could have believed in the good faith of people who
always lie. I paid for my unpardonable stupidity by my sufferings in the
Solovetsky prison. May my fate serve as a warning to other credulous

On April, 1923, I presented myself at the Tcheka offices at Batoum. I
was interrogated by an examining judge remarkable for his youth — an
impudent lad of seventeen. The detective service in Soviet Russia is
brilliantly staffed! When he had totted up my "offences" in detail, the
boy Tchekist concluded his interrogation with the jeering cry:

"Ha, we don't use kid gloves with fellows like you!"

Nor did they. When I referred to the formal phrases of the amnesty, the
examining judge roared with laughter.

"Take him to the cells. They'll show him the amnesty there."

They did.

I will not describe in detail my moral and physical sufferings, the
blows, the insults, the attempts to extract information from me by
_provocateur_ methods, which I endured while in the custody of the
Batoum Tcheka. Suffice it to say that I was finally taken to be examined
at two o'clock in the morning. They again went through my biography for
the last few years with the greatest exactitude, and proposed that I
should confess everything and name my principal accomplices, ten in
number (the number was given quite correctly). Persuasion was exchanged
for abuse, and abuse for revolver shots over my head to intimidate me.

I denied my guilt, and refused to name any accomplices. I and three
other men were taken into the yard to be shot. They killed one prisoner
two paces from me. The second likewise was shot dead. The third fell,
covered with blood. They yelled at me:

"Now it's your turn!"

I stood beside the bodies of my companions in imprisonment. Almost
touching my head with the muzzles of their revolvers, the Tchekists

"Now confess!"

I was silent. For some reason they did not kill me. Probably my life was
still useful to them in some way.

I spent a few days in the prison of the Batoum Tcheka. Then they took me
to the Trans-Caucasian Tcheka at Tiflis; its headquarters were in the
Sololaki quarter, in the centre of the town. As regards cruelty, there
was no difference between the regime there and that at Batoum. The
president and omnipotent master of the Trans-Caucasian Tcheka was at
that time the well-known Tchekist Mogilevsky,[4] who was killed not long
ago in an aeroplane accident.

Blood was flowing in streams in the Caucasus. The Communists were taking
a triple vengeance on their prisoners for the murder of Vorovsky in
Switzerland, the insurrection in Georgia and Lord Curzon's ultimatum. In
the countless prisons of the Caucasus thousands of people were being
slaughtered daily.

The Caucasus has not yet been finally pacified by the Communists, and at
the time of which I write the whole country was ablaze with civil war.
Insurgent bands burst into the towns and hanged all the Bolsheviks. The
latter replied by intensifying their already merciless reign of terror.

One day the rebels descended on the "Kursk settlement," close to
Vladikavkaz, and, among other things, drove off the herds belonging to
the Soviet. A pursuit was set on foot, headed by the celebrated
executioner, the Lett Shtybe, President of the Gpu[5] of the Mountain
Republic. The rebel band went into hiding in the mountains, taking the
cattle along with it, and could not be traced. The Tchekists succeeded
in discovering and surrounding in the mountains only one rebel leader.

The mountaineer, with a precipitous wall of rock behind him and plenty
of cartridges in his pocket, withstood an attack from several squadrons
of Communists for several hours. One of his well-aimed shots killed
Shtybe himself. Although several times wounded, he killed eleven more
Communists. At last he fell mortally wounded. In his rifle, which his
cold fingers held close to his face, not one cartridge was found; he had
fought to the last. He was tied to a horse's tail and dragged to

The executioner Shtybe was buried with pomp and ceremony in the Pushkin
Square at Tiflis. The death of this rascal was made a pretext for
reprisals against the prisoners.

The cowherd in charge of the beasts which the insurgents had driven off
into the mountains was a boy, deaf and dumb from birth, and clearly
half-witted. This imbecile creature was ordered by the Tchekists to
identify, from among all the prisoners in the gaols of the Caucasus,
"those concerned in the murder of that unforgettable champion of the
happiness of the proletariat, Comrade Shtybe."

The presidential body of the "Gortcheka" (Tcheka of the Mountain
Republic)[6] did not trouble to ask itself how we, who had been in a
Tcheka prison at the time of Shtybe's death and long before it, could
have been concerned in his "murder." We were drawn up in two ranks. If
the cowherd stopped in front of a man, uttered an inarticulate sound, or
simply smiled foolishly, it was considered sufficient proof that the man
who had attracted the half-witted boy's attention had "murdered the
unforgettable Comrade Shtybe." He immediately received the order, "Two
paces to the front!" and a bullet was put through his head.

Several dozen men were killed in this manner before my eyes. Then,
walking along the second rank, the cowherd stopped before me. Death
seemed inevitable. But, apparently, the public prosecutor of the
Mountain Republic, Toguzoff, who was walking behind the cowherd, and who
had interrogated me only the night before and knew perfectly well that I
had absolutely nothing to do with Shtybe's death, felt a momentary prick
of conscience, and led the cowherd on just as he was distorting his
countenance in an idiotic grimace before me.

This public prosecutor is a characteristic figure. Kazbek Toguzoff, an
ex-officer, in 1917 carried on a desperate struggle in the Caucasus in
support of the Provisional Government, demanding the dissolution of all
the Soldiers' and Workmen's Councils by armed force and the immediate
hanging of all Bolsheviks. By unascertainable methods he entered the
Communist Party, and to-day he is still hanging men — but now

[Footnote 3: "Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic." The present
official designation of Soviet Russia is "Union of Socialist Soviet
Republics" (U.S.S.R.).]

[Footnote 4: Mogilevsky was Mrs. Stan Harding's examining judge during
her imprisonment in Moscow in 1920; see her book "The Underworld of
State" (Allen & Unwin).]

[Footnote 5: Gpu (_Gosudarstvennoe Polititcheskoe Upravlenie_), the
present official designation of the Tcheka. The sham "abolition" of the
Tcheka in 1922 and its "replacement" by the Gpu are ironically described
by Mr. George Popoff in his book "The Tcheka." The synonymous terms
"Gpu" and "Tcheka" are used indifferently by the author.]

[Footnote 6: In Russian _Gorskaya Respublika_, hence the
portmanteau-words "Gortcheka" and "Gor-Gpu."]



_Prince Mukhransky's Resolve — The Metekh — In the Hands of Sadists — A
Shunned Locality — "Shooting Nights" — A Biter Bit._

Among the thousands of persons imprisoned in the gaols of the
Trans-Caucasian Tcheka at the same time as myself were fifteen officers,
among them General Tsulukudze, Prince Khimshieff, and Prince Mukhransky,
whose brother was married to the daughter of the Grand Duke Constantine
Constantinovitch. They were all charged with organising a mythical
counter-revolutionary plot and being concerned in the Georgian rebellion
of 1923, and after prolonged, torturing examinations were sentenced to
be shot.

Prince Mukhransky resolved not to sell his life cheaply. He succeeded in
getting hold of a large nail, found in the room. When, on the night
appointed for the execution, the door opened and a party of Tchekists
headed by Schulman, Commandant of the Trans-Caucasian Tcheka, known as
the "Death Commandant," entered to fetch away the condemned officers,
Mukhransky flung the nail as hard as he could into Schulman's face,
aiming at his eyes. The heavy nail broke the executioner's nose.
Schulman groaned with pain. At once an incredible noise arose. The whole
prison was awakened by cries and shots. The room was filled with smoke.
All the fifteen officers were killed on the spot by the escort. The
prisoners in other rooms were ordered to wash away the streams of blood.

The executioner Zlieff, plenipotentiary extraordinary in Ossetia of the
Gpu of the Mountain Republic, used to force the muzzle of a revolver
into the mouth of the prisoner he was examining and turn it about so
that it crushed the gums and knocked out teeth. My cell companion in the
prison of the "Gor-Gpu" was subjected to this torture. He was an old
Ossetian, who was accused of the following offence (to quote from the
indictment itself):

"The accused once walked past Tchelokaeff's[7] door."

  * * * * * * *

After a few weeks I was transferred to the chief prison in the Caucasus
— the Metekh[8] at Tiflis. As at the present day, the Metekh was used in
1923 as a place of detention for political prisoners only; ordinary
criminals were lodged in the Government prison. There were in the castle
2,600 "White Guards," including a large number of Georgian Mensheviks.

Inhuman reprisals were carried out methodically on these defenceless
people — I saw many old men, women and children. Once a week — on
Tuesdays — a special commission, consisting alternately of members of
the Trans-Caucasian Tcheka and the Georgian Tcheka, sat in the
commandant's office in the prison and drew up a list of victims, paying
no more regard to the degree to which, in each case, proof of guilt
existed than to the voice of humanity. The whole personnel of the
castle, the "Zaktcheka" and the "Gruztcheka," was filled with sadists.

Every week, on Tuesday nights, from sixty to three hundred persons were
shot in the prison. That night was veritable hell for the whole Metekh.
We did not know who was marked down to be shot, so everyone expected to
be shot. Nobody could get a wink of sleep till morning. The ceaseless
bloodshed was a torture not only to the prisoners, but to people living
in freedom outside. All the streets round the Metekh had long been
uninhabited; the population of this quarter had abandoned their houses,
unable any longer to listen to the shots of the executioners, the
shrieks and groans of the victims.

The Tchekists in the Metekh were always drunk. They were regular
butchers. Their resemblance to butchers was heightened by their habit of
rolling up their sleeves to the elbow and walking through the corridors
and cells, sometimes tumbling to the floor, drunk with wine and with
human blood.

On "shooting nights" from five to ten men were taken from each room. The
procedure of reading out the list of those doomed to die was drawn out
by the Tchekists to an average minimum of a quarter of an hour in each
room. There was a long pause before each name was read, during which the
whole room shivered with terror. Even people with strong nerves could
not withstand such torture. On Tuesday nights half the prisoners in the
castle sobbed till morning came. Next day no one could eat a morsel of
food; the prison dinner was left untouched. This happened _every_ week.
And prisoners from the Mountain Republic who came to the Solovky in 1925
told us that it was still happening then. Many people could not endure
the prolonged nightmare and became insane. Many committed suicide, in
every conceivable manner.

While I was in the castle a well-known Tiflis Tchekist, Zozulia, a
Cossack from the Kuban, was placed among the prisoners to act as an
_agent provocateur_. This executioner, in a comparatively short space of
time, had shot over six hundred persons with his own hand — a fact which
he did not deny. At last he was recognised and killed by the prisoners.

  * * * * * * *

I spent four months and a half in the Metekh, and prepared myself for
death every Tuesday.

Then began an endless series of journeys and fresh prisons. From the
Metekh I was transferred to the Government prison at Tiflis, thence to
the "Timakhika" prison at Baku, where I spent a fortnight, then to the
Tcheka prison at Petrovsk (three weeks), thence to Grozny, and from
Grozny in "Stolypin trucks," specially constructed for prisoners, to
Vladikavkaz. Everywhere was the same total suppression of human
personality, the same torture by nocturnal interrogations, starvation
and blows, the same lawless, indiscriminate shootings.

[Footnote 7: See Chapter I.]

[Footnote 8: See Chapter I.]



_Finally "Amnestied!" — The "Shpana" — A Lucky Escape — Classification
of Prisoners — Madame Kameneff's Protegees._

At last, on November 30th, 1923, i.e., seven months after I had been
"amnestied" by the Batoum Tcheka, the examining judge of the Vladikavkaz
Tcheka finally "amnestied" me in the following terms:

"By order of the administrative exile commission of the People's
Commissariat for Home Affairs, Citizen S. A. Malsagoff, having been
found guilty of offences against the State of the nature contemplated by
Clauses 64 and 66 of the Criminal Code of the R.S.F.S.R. — Clause 64,
'organisation of terrorist acts in co-operation with persons outside
Russia,' and Clause 66, 'espionage for the benefit of the international
_bourgeoisie_' — is exiled to the concentration camp in the Solovetsky
Islands for a term of three years."

I and several others who had been "amnestied" were sent north by easy
stages. The first halting-place was Rostoff. Here I first met face to
face the so-called _shpana_ — the ordinary criminals who play so
singular a _rôle_ in all the Russian prisons, camps and places of exile.

Robbers on a large and a small scale, burglars, murderers,
horse-thieves, coiners, vagabonds — are flung in whole divisions from
one prison to another, serve their term or escape by bribing their
guards, but soon get into gaol again. Almost all are completely
destitute of clothing, always starving, and covered with lice. The
guards beat them over the head with their rifle butts, they murder one
another with bricks wrenched out of the prison walls. Completely
bestialised, wherever they go they gamble away their modest _payok_
(food ration) and their last pair of trousers at cards. This loss they
make good by robbing newly-arrived prisoners belonging to the political
categories. The stolen things are sold through the overseers of the
prisons and camps, and the money obtained for them is spent on drink.

On entering the room allotted to us in Rostoff prison, I was struck dumb
with consternation; we were met by nearly a hundred _shpana_ with
deafening yells and menacing cries. In a corner sat five men of the
educated classes, including a colonel on the General Staff; the _shpana_
had stripped them naked in one night.

Luckily there were men among us who had been through every imaginable
experience. One of them drew a chalk line on the floor, dividing the
room into two spheres of influence, political and criminal, and shouted
to the _shpana_:

"If one of you crosses this line, I'll kill him!"

He was a man of gigantic stature; the _shpana_ were intimidated. When
night came, we posted sentries on the frontier of our sphere of
influence. But for events taking this turn, the money and other things
which our relations had managed to send us when on the way to Rostoff —
by means of substantial bribes to the guards — would have been stolen
from us.

From Rostoff we were sent to the Taganka in Moscow.

In the Taganka prison a noticeable degree of system prevails. There are
separate rooms for "criminals" of different categories. In Moscow we
made the acquaintance of the curious division of all "criminals" by the
Soviet authorities not into two classes, "counter-revolutionaries" and
"_shpana_," as in the Caucasus and Southern Russia, but into three.

The first group, called "K.R.", comprises persons suspected of acts or
propaganda of a Monarchist or, in general, a _bourgeois_, anti-Socialist
tendency. In this comprehensive group you may meet an ex-Minister and an
ex-doorkeeper, a young non-commissioned officer and a general, a big
manufacturer and an assistant in a small shop, an ex-princess and her
cook. The Soviet authorities allot to the "K.R." group the whole clergy
_en masse_, without distinction of Church, the whole of the educated and
semi-educated classes, all merchants and all officers.

To the second group, the so-called "politicals and party men," belong
prisoners from the remnants of the pre-Revolution Socialist parties —
Social Revolutionaries, Social Democrats, Anarchists, etc. — which have
not yet been merged with the Communists.

The third category comprises the criminals proper, the so-called

The Soviet authorities maintain this same distinction in the Solovky and
all the other concentration camps and places of exile or settlement.

In the Taganka we were placed in a room packed full of clerics. There
were the Vladika Peter (Sokoloff), the Archbishop of Saratoff, the monks
of the Kazan monastery, etc. Almost all were accused of concealing
church treasures at the time when the Bolsheviks were robbing the
churches to satisfy the needs of the Komintern.[9] These bishops,
priests and monks, like us, were sent to the Solovky.

In Petrograd, where we arrived at the beginning of January, 1924, a
group of twenty men, so-called "Casino-ites," were placed in the same
room as ourselves in the "second passing-through prison," occupied
exclusively by prisoners going on to some other place.

Not long before a fashionable gambling hell in Moscow for highly-placed
Communists, called the Casino, had been shut on the ground of too high
play, drunken orgies, immorality and debauchery. The unofficial head of
this honourable institution was Madame Kameneff, wife of the President
of the Executive Committee of the Moscow Government.[10] The Moscow Gpu,
when closing the Casino, did not dare to arrest the spouse of the
Communist Governor-General of Moscow, but the whole staff of the
gambling hell, headed by the croupier Petroff, was sent to the Solovky
for three years.

These fellows were also our companions on our journey to Kem.
Subsequently the "Casino-ites," at the instance of Madame Kameneff, were
sent from the Solovky to a voluntary settlement in the Petchersk region.
Before our flight from the concentration camp I heard that Petroff and
Co. were back in Moscow.

Convoys of prisoners are now sent north from Petrograd once a week, on
Thursdays. On one of these Thursdays — January 14th, 1924 — I and a
large number of other "K.R.'s," "politicals and party men," and
_shpana_, left for the Solovky in prisoners' trucks.

[Footnote 9: The Third, or Communist, International.]

[Footnote 10: i.e. Province.]





_Conditions in Earlier Camps — The "White House" — 100,000 Shot — Mass
Drownings — A Commission of Inquiry — Survivors Removed to Solovetsky

Until late in 1922, Kholmogory[11] and Portaminsk performed the function
now discharged by the Solovky. When I reached the Solovky at the
beginning of 1924, I met a number of men, the survivors of the "K.R."
prisoners in the concentration camps at these places. They had been
transferred to the Solovky in August, 1922. I should like to state
briefly what these men, who had remained alive by a miracle, told me.

The concentration camps at Kholmogory and Portaminsk were established by
the Soviet Government at the end of 1919. The people sent to them from
every part of Russia had to live in hastily-run-up hutments. These were
_never_ heated, even at the height of winter, when in these far northern
latitudes the thermometer often falls to -50° or -60° Celsius (90 to 110
degrees of frost Fahrenheit).

The prisoners were given the following ration: one potato for breakfast,
potato peelings cooked in hot water for dinner, and one potato for
supper. Not a morsel of bread, not an ounce of sugar, not to speak of
meat or butter. And these people, driven by the pangs of hunger to eat
the bark of trees, unable to stand from exhaustion, were compelled by
tortures and shootings to perform hard labour — digging up tree-stumps,
working in the stone-quarries, floating timber.

They were absolutely forbidden to correspond with their families in any
way or to receive from them parcels of clothes or food. All letters were
destroyed, food and other things sent were consumed or used by the camp

After the defeat of the armies of General Denikin and General Wrangel,
at the end of 1919 and 1920 respectively, captured White officers and
men and civilian inhabitants of the territories wrested from the White
armies — men, women and children — were sent to Kholmogory, convoy after
convoy. And after the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion in April,
1921, all the sailors taken prisoner by the Bolsheviks, about 2,000 in
number, were sent there. The remnants of Koltchak's army, various
Siberian and Ukrainian chieftains, peasants from the Tamboff Government
who had belonged to Antonoff's bands, tens of thousands of members of
the _intelligentsia_ of all nationalities and religions, Kuban and Don
Cossacks, etc. — all flowed in a broad stream to Kholmogory and

The higher administration of these camps was appointed by Moscow and
carried out the instructions received thence. The middle and lower
_personnel_ consisted of imprisoned Tchekists, who had been transported
for too open robbery, taking of bribes, drunkenness and other breaches
of duty. These fellows, having no one else on whom to avenge their
removal from their lucrative duties in the Extraordinary Commissions of
Central Russia, treated the prisoners in the camps with indescribable

The assistant commandant of the Kholmogory camp, a Pole named
Kvitsinsky, was particularly ferocious. This sadist-executioner has on
his conscience the horrors of the so-called "White House," in the
neighbourhood of Kholmogory. The "White House" was an estate abandoned
by its owners, containing a white-painted building. Here for two years
(1920-22) shootings took place daily at the direction of Kvitsinsky. The
terrible reputation of the "White House" was doubled by the fact that
the bodies of those executed were not taken away. At the end of 1922 all
the rooms of the "White House" were filled with corpses right up to the
ceiling. Two thousand sailors from Kronstadt were shot there in three
days. The smell of the decomposed bodies poisoned the air for miles
round. The stench, which never abated by night or day, stifled the
prisoners in the camps and even made them faint. Three-quarters of the
inhabitants of the town of Kholmogory were finally unable to endure it
any longer and abandoned their homes.

Without the slightest doubt the Soviet Government knew of the horrors
perpetrated at Kholmogory and Portaminsk; it could not help knowing.
But, having an interest in the pitiless extermination of their
opponents, real and supposed, the leaders of the Communist Party
confined themselves to washing their hands of the whole business.

Executions were carried out at other places besides the "White House."
The Tchekists used to come into the prisoners' enclosure and, having
marked down the destined victims, point to one or another of the
prisoners with the words: "One — two — three. . . . One — two — three. .
. . "One" meant that the prisoner was to be shot the same day, "two"
that he was to be shot to-morrow, and "three" the day after to-morrow.
This was usually done when a fresh large party had arrived, and room had
to be made in the camp for the newcomers.

According to the evidence of eye-witnesses, about 100,000 persons in all
were shot at Kholmogory and Portaminsk. There is nothing astonishing in
this figure, terrible as it is. For three years on end these camps
constituted the chief prison of all Soviet Russia. To them, in addition
to the large convoys, were sent, from every place in European and
Asiatic Russia, all those whom it was for any reason undesirable or
inconvenient to kill on the spot — for example, all those who had been
"amnestied" by local Soviet authorities.

The executioners of Kholmogory and Portaminsk used another method of
destroying their prisoners: they drowned them. Of a whole series of
cases known to me I will mention only those which follow.

In 1921 four thousand former officers and soldiers of Wrangel's army
were ordered to embark on board a barge, and the vessel was sunk at the
mouth of the Dvina. The men who were able to keep themselves on the
surface by swimming were shot.

In 1922 several barges were loaded with prisoners. The Tchekists sank
some of them in the Dvina in sight of everyone. The unfortunate
passengers on board the other barges, among whom were many women, were
landed on one of the small islands near Kholmogory and shot down with
machine-guns from the barges. Mass murders were carried out on this
island very frequently. Like the "White House," it was heaped with

Those who escaped being shot the Tchekists hounded to death by
compelling them to do work beyond their strength. The prisoners in
receipt of the above-mentioned ration, among them old men and women,
worked all round the clock. It was counted a piece of luck to find a
rotten potato in the fields; it was greedily eaten on the spot, raw.

When the Tchekists noticed that the inhabitants of the region — Lapps,
Zyrians and Samoyedes — were throwing bread to the crowd of prisoners as
they passed their huts, they began to take them to their work by another
route, through thick forest and marshes.

If a newly arrived prisoner was decently dressed, they shot him at once,
in order to get his clothes sooner.

Early in the summer of 1922 a Kronstadt sailor who, by chance, had
remained alive escaped from the Kholmogory camp. He succeeded in making
his way to Moscow, where he used his former connections to obtain an
audience of the "Vtsik"[12] (All-Russian Central Executive Committee),
and said to Kalinin:

"Do what you like with me, but turn your attention to the horrors in the
northern camps!"

At this time 90 per cent, of the prisoners had already been done to
death. Communist humanity had been sufficiently proved, and the Vtsik,
exchanging anger for clemency, lent a gracious ear to the escaped
sailor's prayer. At the end of July, 1922, a commission started from
Moscow for Kholmogory to inspect the Kholmogory and Portaminsk camps.
Its president was one Feldman.

Feldman himself could not conceal his horror at what he saw and heard at
these places. He had the camp commandants shot, and sent their
assistants and the rest of the _personnel_ to Moscow, nominally to be
tried. All the Tchekists, however, were pardoned and placed in positions
of responsibility in Gpu offices in Southern Russia. Fully understanding
that the "White House" and its scores of thousands of corpses were a
burden on the conscience of Moscow, Feldman determined to wipe out the
traces of all that had happened there. He therefore ordered the place to
be burned down.

Feldman's commission had been empowered by the Vtsik to amnesty the
prisoners in both camps. Only the ordinary criminals, the _shpana_,
however, received their liberty. None of the "counter-revolutionaries"
were amnestied.

In August, 1922, the remaining "K.R.'s" were sent under a reliable guard
from Kholmogory and Portaminsk to the Solovetsky Islands, _via_ Kem.

[Footnote 11: On the Dvina, 46 miles S.E. of Archangel.]

[Footnote 12: Vserossisky Tsentralnyi Ispolnitelnyi Komitet.]



_The Famous Solovetsky Monastery — Its Wealth and Economic Strength —
The Bolshevist Invasion — Destruction and Pillage — Organisation of the
Solovky — The Camps and their Rulers._

The "Solovetsky" concentration camp received its name from the
Solovetsky Monastery, founded in 1429 by Saints Sabbatius and Hermann,
while Saint Zosima built the first church in 1436. The island, seventeen
miles long by eleven broad, on which the monastery stands, is one of a
group known by the collective designation Solovetsky Islands; there are,
besides the principal island, five other large ones — Ansersk, Great and
Little Zajatsk, Great and Little Muksalm — and a number of small ones.
They lie in the White Sea, at the entrance to the Gulf of Onega, and
close to the western coast of the Archangel Government.

The Solovetsky Monastery, one of the most ancient and most held in
honour of Russian monasteries, has long been noted for the peculiar
ascetism of the life led by its inmates, the incalculable wealth of its
churches and the large number of monks in the brotherhood, which is
indicated by the fact that the number of boys sent by their relations to
the monastery for a year reached in some years the figure of two

The monastery had, among other things, its own tannery, iron foundry,
paper mill, match factory, saw mills, dozens of workshops of various
kinds, a printing works (the workmen were all monks), a dock, a merchant
fleet, and even a small navy for the defence of its shores. The
monastery's infantry and artillery, consisting exclusively of monks,
were also designed to serve this purpose.

The first years of the Revolution affected the organisation and economic
strength of the monastery only to an insignificant degree, lying, as it
did, to one side of the main road of Bolshevist pillage. Even at the
time when the British were in these parts — it will be remembered that
the Archangel and Murmansk areas were for a time occupied by a Russian
anti-Soviet army, under General Miller, and British troops — the
monastery still lived its old industrious life.

[Illustration: Map of Northwestern Russia, Showing the Solovetsky

The Soviet power destroyed this highly cultured advanced post of Russia
in the Far North with characteristic violence and cruelty. In the autumn
of 1922 all the wooden buildings of the monastery were burnt. The
Bolsheviks began by murdering half the monks, including the Igumen of
the monastery; the remainder they sent to forced labour in Central
Russia. The treasures were plundered by the first Tchekists who entered
the precincts. The decorations of the ikons were torn off, the ikons
themselves blasphemously chopped up with hatchets for fuel. The bells
were flung down from all the belfries and the fragments sent to Moscow
to be melted down.

Besides a multitude of objects precious in a religious and material
sense, the Soviet Huns destroyed treasures of immense historical value.
The Tchekists pillaged the library of the monastery, which during the
five centuries of its existence had been filled with unique works. They
heated the stoves with rare books, old documents and chronicles of the
greatest antiquity. Finally, the dishonest methods of the new
management, combined with the criminal plundering and inexperience of
the Soviet administration, ruined the factories and workshops belonging
to the monastery.

The ancient building was reduced to a heap of ruins. The Tchekists put
up a barbed wire fence round it. The half-destroyed Kremlin, or main
enclosure of the monastery, became the headquarters of the "Slon."[13]
All the branches of the Solovky are under the direction of the office in
question, viz., the Solovky camp itself, the Kem camp (on Popoff
Island), the camp on Kond Island, and the places of exile in the
Petchersk and Zyriansk regions.

The Kem camp on Popoff Island (about a quarter of a mile from the shore
and six miles from the town of Kem) is a base depot for the Solovky. In
it are assembled, until navigation opens, thousands of new prisoners
bound for the Solovky from all parts of Russia. The ordinary criminals
who from time to time are amnestied are sent there from Solovetsky
Island on their way south. Prisoners are continually being sent from the
Kem camp to the monastery and from the monastery to Popoff Island for
labour purposes — generally the latter, for most of the work is done on
Popoff Island.

Before proceeding to a detailed account of the administration of the
Solovky, I may mention that when I arrived in the domain of the Slon
there were in the concentration camps over five thousand prisoners of
the three categories defined in a previous chapter — "K.R.'s,"
"political and party men," and "_shpana_," or ordinary criminals.

In the monastery itself, the "K.R.'s" and criminals live in the cells
and churches of the Kremlin which have escaped destruction, the
"politicals and party men" in the hermits' caves which are scattered all
over the island — three, six or eight miles from the Kremlin. On Popoff
Island the prisoners are housed in hutments erected by the British — the
"K.R.'s" and _shpana_ together, the "politicals and party men"

The supreme head of the administration of the Northern Camps for Special
Purposes is a Moscow Tchekist, a member of the Vtsik, named Gleb Boky.
(One of the Solovetsky steamers, by the way, has been re-named _Gleb
Boky_ in his honour.) He is a tall, thin man, apparently well educated.
His bearing is generally gloomy, his eyes piercing; he always wears
military uniform. He is the typical rigid Communist of superior
education, with an element of cruelty in his disposition. He lives in
Moscow, where he has some other employment in the Gpu, and only comes to
the Solovky now and then.

His deputy, who lives permanently in the Kremlin of the monastery, is
the real head of the Slon in practice; the fate of the prisoners in the
Solovky is completely in his hands. His name is Nogteff. He is also a
member of the Vtsik, and was formerly a sailor in the cruiser _Aurora_.
He is semi-educated, drunken, and rather deaf, with a conspicuously
cruel physiognomy. He is universally known in the camps by the nickname
_palatch_ (executioner). When he goes round the hutments and caves of
the "political and party" prisoners, they shout in his face "Go away,
executioner!" (I will explain later how it is that they are able to do
this with impunity.)

Nogteff's right-hand man and deputy is an Estonian Communist named
Eichmans. He suffers from "paradomania." Of smart military bearing
himself, he demands the same of prisoners in a state of permanent
starvation. They are compelled to salute him. Immediately on his arrival
in the Solovky he began to teach the prisoners, with blows when
required, how to reply to his "good morning" in a brisk, military tone,
at the same time coming to attention.

When I arrived in the Solovky, and until March, 1924, the commandant of
the "Kemperraspredpunkt"[14] was one Gladkoff, a Tchekist, born at
Kaluga, in Central Russia, and formerly a workman. He was notable for
his open peculation of Government money and his astounding patronage of
the _shpana_. Almost illiterate, coarse, addicted to cards and drink, he
was really in no way different from these common criminals. It was thus
on what might be termed ideological grounds that Gladkoff established
and strengthened the dictatorship of the _shpana_ over the "K.R.'s" and
politicals, and all the violence we endured at their hands.

[Footnote 13: _Severnye Lageri Osobennavo Naznatchenia_ (Northern Camps
for Special Purposes). _Slon_ means "elephant" in Russian; the _double
entendre_ cannot, of course, be reproduced in English.]

[Footnote 14: This appalling portmanteau word, a fine flower of Soviet
officia phraseology, signifies _Kemsky peresylotchno-raspredelnitelnyi
punkt_ (Kem distributing centre for prisoners passing through). These
long-winded official designations, of no interest to the general reader,
are given here for the benefit of students of Soviet Russian affairs.]



_Convicted Tchekists as Prison Staff — The "Public Prosecutor" — A
Foreign Visitor's Fate — Bela Kun's Right Hand Man — "Smolensky Sticks"
— Moscow Prison Riot — The "Mother" of the Criminals — An Unpunished

In March, 1924, a so-called "change of cabinet" took place. I will speak
of this later, and continue my portraits of the ministers in the earlier

Boky, Nogteff, Eichmans, Gladkoff — these were the men who had the
power. They were sent to the Solovky from Moscow by Dshershinsky
himself. The remainder of the _personnel_ of the Solovetsky and Kem
camps were Tchekist prisoners. There were several dozen of these at the
monastery and on Popoff Island. When the corruption, fraud, violence or
swinish drunkenness of Gpu officials cannot possibly be concealed from
the public eye, they are brought to account for their offences without
delay. Some are transferred to other places, some are sent for terms of
from two to ten years to the Slon camps, where they are still employed
in their "special branch."

I mention a few of the transported Tchekists who held, and still hold,
important posts in the administration of the Solovetsky Islands.

Nogteff's assistant on the administrative side is one Vasko, a brutal
villain. This individual is the "public prosecutor" of the Solovetsky
Islands, and all the documents relating to the cases of the transported
persons are in his hands. The importance of his function is due to the
fact that, although all the "K.R.'s" and politicals are regarded as
having been sentenced by the Gpu (always in their absence, without any
kind of trial) and the term of their imprisonment is definitely fixed,
in reality they are all in the position of persons whose cases are _sub
judice_. At any moment new evidence can be discovered relating to their
cases, with the result that their term of imprisonment may be extended,
or they may be shot. Comrade Vasko's occupation is to search carefully
for any fresh fact or allegation which may chain the prisoner to the
Solovky more firmly and for a longer time; and in doing so he does not
shrink from such methods as the employment of _agents provocateurs_, the
blatant forgery of new "proofs," and so on.

The management of the technical side of the actual Solovetsky camp is in
the hands of Roganoff, an engineer, sent to the Solovky for offences
relating to the discharge of his functions. I do not know how he manages
the affairs of the camp, but it is manifest to everyone that Mr.
Roganoff, now that he has turned his coat, is in no way different from
the real Tchekists, either in his behaviour towards the prisoners or in
his self-indulgent manner of living. His technical assistants, both at
the monastery and on Popoff Island, are engineers recruited from among
the prisoners. They are people of no importance, almost as helpless
against injustice and ill-treatment as all the rest of us.

The direction of the Northern Camps for Special Purposes is compelled,
for reasons I will speak of later, to be self-supporting. It, therefore,
concludes agreements of various kinds for the construction of roads and
buildings with prisoner labour, wood-cutting, etc., with the Karelian
Republic and with various economic organs of the central Government. It
is also endeavouring to get the ruined factories and workshops on
Solovetsky Island into working order again. Although all this, as will
be shown later, results in nothing but confusion, the "Natchuslon"[15]
has at his disposal something in the nature of a "juridical adviser in
forced labour questions."

This, in practice, useless function is discharged Frenckell, a big
Hungarian manufacturer. Frenckell came to Russia at the invitation of
the Vneshtorg (Foreign Trade Office) to conclude a commercial treaty and
take over certain Soviet enterprises on a lease by way of concessions.
Instead of this he found himself sent to the Solovky for two years by
order of the Gpu for "espionage for the benefit of the international
_bourgeoisie_" (Clause 66 of the Criminal Code). Frenckell is sometimes
ordered to Petrograd and Moscow on camp business of a commercial and
juridical kind. The term of his punishment expires at the end of the
present year (1925), but — by reason of the Gpu circular of August, 1924
— he will leave the Solovky not for Hungary, but for a further three
years' stay, first in the Narym,[16] then in the Turukhansk[17] and
finally in the Zyriansk region.

The lower administration of the Solovky consists of "starosty"
(headmen), "commanders of labour regiments," and "commanders of labour

Until recently the headman of the Solovetsky camp (who was also
commander of a labour regiment) was a Tchekist named Michelson, a lame
misshapen creature of bestial ferocity. When the Soviet power was
carrying out reprisals on the defeated Crimea, at the end of 1920 and
the beginning of 1921, Michelson was the right hand of another wild
beast, Bela Kun, the former dictator of the Hungarian Soviet Republic,
whom he supported in his function of "President of the Triumvirate for
the Conduct of the Red Terror in the Crimea." Michelson, like Bela Kun,
became famous far beyond the frontiers of the Crimea for his executions
of scores of thousands of Wrangel's officers and men and of the civil
population. At last Dzerzhinsky himself, who could not possibly be
suspected of humane motives, was obliged to put an end to the Crimean
St. Bartholomew's Nights. Bela Kun was declared to be mentally abnormal
and was recalled to Moscow (this was referred to in the Soviet papers),
and Michelson was exiled to the Solovky. At the present date he is
directing the activities of the Gpu in one of the "autonomous" Soviet

Another personality worth noting is Marian Smolensky, a member of the
Polish Communist Party, who when I arrived at the Solovky was commander
of a labour company. In the middle of 1924 he was released from the
Solovky and received a lucrative post in the Gpu. In the Soviet-Polish
war of 1920 he was not taken prisoner, but went over to the Reds of his
own accord. Proletarian "solidarity" was coupled in him with hatred of
his fellow-creatures. He was a violent Polish Chauvinist, and hated the
Russians so bitterly that he grew purple with rage at the very word
"Russia." He was able to indulge his hatred with impunity at the expense
of the prisoners, whom he beat without mercy. Smolensky's name has been
perpetuated in the annals of the Solovky by the "Smolensky sticks" which
he invented. These are thick curved cudgels, still used for flogging

Another commander of a labour company, Grakholsky, must not be passed
over in silence. He was shot at the Solovky in the autumn of 1924.
Grakholsky declared that he had been an officer of the supply service
under the Tsar, and gave the impression of being an intelligent man. He
had only one eye. At the end of 1917, when the Bolsheviks seized power,
he was appointed commandant of Oranienbaum, on the Gulf of Finland, and
there he had his right eye knocked out, either by a bullet or by a rifle

Grakholsky's chief claim to celebrity was the part he took in the famous
rebellion in the Butyrka prison in Moscow in the winter of 1923. The
prisoners, who had been kept in prison for years without any charge
being brought against them, became desperate and started a rebellion
under the direction of the politicals (Social Revolutionaries). One fine
day all Moscow was awakened by wild yells. The prisoners, three thousand
in number, disarmed the inner guard of the prison, smashed all the
windows, and demanded that their cases should be dealt with immediately
by Kalinin, the president of the Vtsik, and the dismissal of the public
prosecutor of the Republic, the notorious Armenian, Katanian. They hung
out of the windows and yelled till all Moscow heard them, chanting: "We
— want — Ka-li-ni-i-i-n! Ka-li-ni-i-i-n! We don't want Ka-ta-nian!"

The whole city flocked to the prison. The streets leading to it were
packed with people, many of them cheering. Neither persuasion nor
threats could stop the demonstration. The yelling went on for nearly two
hours. At last the Gpu used force. Two regiments of Gpu special troops
("tchon")[18] broke down the resistance offered and forced their way
into the prison. The Gpu exacted a cruel punishment for the rebellion.
Its organisers were shot in the prison yard the same day; all the other
prisoners were beaten with ramrods. There was no heating at all in the
prison for a fortnight, although it was freezing hard and all the
windows were broken; the prisoners had their blankets taken away from
them and were put on "starvation rations." Some of the men, who had
howled louder than the others, were sent to the Solovky for five years.
Grakholsky was one of these. Vasto, however, declared, six months later,
that he had not only yelled loudly, but had also been one of the
instigators of the demonstration; and he was accordingly shot.

Kvitsinsky, who was sent to Moscow for trial by Feldman after the
Kholmogory inquiry, is already known to the reader. He was not punished
in any way for his hideous crimes and is now in the Solovky,
perpetuating the glorious traditions of the "White House" and
continually wielding the "Smolensky sticks."

Until the "change of cabinet" in the spring of 1924 the commandant of
the Kem camp was, as I have mentioned, Gladkoff, the patron of the
common criminals. They found an even more potent defender of their
interests in Gladkoff's wife, a simple peasant woman from Kaluga, who
had her husband completely under her thumb. Her official title was
"administratrix," but the whole camp called her "Mother," the name given
her by the grateful _shpana_. And she was in truth a mother to the
criminals. She allowed them to do no work, released them from the cells,
and shielded them when they robbed and maltreated the other prisoners.
It was absolutely useless to complain to Gladkoff that the criminals had
robbed you of your last pair of trousers. The commandant of the "Kem
distributing centre" invariably gave the same answer, plus a few
unprintable terms of abuse:

"I don't care if they do rob you. My _shpana_ have got nothing, and
you're _bourgeois_."

Under the regime of Gladkoff and "Mother" the criminals exercised a
dictatorship in the camps; in fact, to this day they are a privileged
caste, the aristocracy of the Solovetsky Islands.

The assistant of the Kem commandant until the "change of cabinet" was
Klimoff, a Tchekist prisoner. Before he entered the service of
Dzerzhinsky's institution he had been commandant of the Kremlin in
Moscow, and later of Trotsky's train. On being transferred to the Gpu he
displayed such brilliant capacities for receiving bribes that he soon
began to take the bread out of the mouth of the president of the
provincial Gpu in which he was employed, and his chief got rid of him by
sending him to the Solovky for ten years.

Men of talent come to the front everywhere. At the Solovky, Klimoff
continued to occupy himself with his speciality, taking bribes. The
Casino-ites[19] brought large sums of money with them to the realms of
the Slon and received a further supply every month from Madame Kameneff.
They simply showered money on Klimoff, and in return were continually
being let off work of some sort.

In 1924, instead of being brought to trial, Klimoff was transferred to
the Solovetsky Monastery to take over the duties of director of the
"Vokhra"[20] (internal security service). A man named Provotoroff came
to Kem in his place, but soon left again to become commandant of Kond
Island, close to Popoff Island.

The assistant of Gladkoff and "Mother" on the economic side was a
Tchekist prisoner named Mamonoff, a young man of twenty-two or
twenty-three. He had been sent to the Solovky for ten years for the
virtuous actions which all Tchekists commit — taking bribes, drunkenness
and maltreating arrested persons.

Despite his youth, Mamonoff was a man of experience. By flagrant thefts
of State property — which he used to tell people about when he was drunk
—, fraud and incompetence, he ruined the Kem camp economically and got
the accounts into hopeless confusion. The Moscow Tchekist Kirilovsky,
who replaced Gladkoff at the end of March, 1924, refused to take the
camp over unless Mamonoff's proceedings were inquired into by a special
commission. A commission of inquiry was, therefore, appointed by the
central Government, and spent _five months_ going through Mamonoff's
books and accounts, day after day. An appalling picture of waste, theft
and fraud was revealed. But Mamonoff received no punishment.

[Footnote 15: _Natchalnik Upravlenia Slona_ (Head of the Direction of
the N.C.S.P.).]

[Footnote 16: In Western Siberia, on the river Obi.]

[Footnote 17: In North-western Siberia, near the mouth of the Yenisei.]

[Footnote 18: _Tchasti Osobennavo Naznatchenia_ (Units for Special

[Footnote 19: See Part I, Chapter IV.]

[Footnote 20: _Otriad vnutrennei okhrany_.]



_Cold, Damp and Darkness — The Camp: its Geography and Amenities —
Recent Improvements — Light Work for a High Bribe._

Nature herself is against the exiles. The Northern Camps for Special
Purposes lie in the farthest north. The climate is severe and damp.
Summer lasts only two months, or two months and a half. It is very late
before the snows melt and spring comes. There are frequent gales,
snowstorms, biting northerly and north-easterly winds. For
three-quarters of the year the Solovetsky Monastery is completely cut
off from the outside world. The long, dark winter is most oppressive,
especially as the lighting in the huts is so poor. The damp from the
Solovetsky marshes has an injurious effect on the health of the
prisoners, worn out by hard labour.

The Kremlin of the monastery, surrounded by a high stone wall, reminds
one of a fortress. In it the "K.R.'s" and _shpana_ live in what once
were the monks' cells, which they themselves have to provide with
board-beds and tables, and to heat, and in the churches. The latter were
plundered not long ago, and many of them have broken windows. Besides
the principal ones (the Preobrajensky, Troitsky-Zosimo-Sabbatievsky, and
Uspensky cathedrals, and the churches of St. Nicholas, St. Philip, and
the Annunciation of the Holy Virgin) there are some ten other churches
and chapels and numerous separate hermits' dwellings, in which the
"politicals and party men" live. The Tchekists occupy the house of the
Archimandrite and the best cells.

Popoff Island is about three miles long and two miles broad. The strait,
a quarter of a mile wide, between it and the mainland is very shallow,
so that it has been found possible to build a bridge over it, on wooden
piles, for the narrow-gauge railway which connects the island with the
town of Kem — a local branch of the Petrozavodsk-Kem-Murmansk line. The
distance from Popoff Island station to Kem station — which is two miles
from the town — is about eight miles; there is a halt on the way, nearer
Kem. A wooden track, made of duck-boards laid down across the marshes,
leads from the concentration camp to the island station, and similar
tracks connect the various buildings.

On the eastern shore of Popoff Island are two wharves, the northern and
southern. Only the latter is in use. It is about forty miles from Popoff
Island to Solovetsky Island — twelve miles from Popoff Island to
Rymbaki, and twenty-eight more on to Solovetsky Island. Between Popoff
Island and Rymbaki the sea does not freeze in winter, but between
Rymbaki and Solovetsky Island it does. There are a lighthouse and stores
on Rymbaki.

The factory of the "Severoles" (Northern Timber Company) is close to the
southern wharf. Prisoner labour is employed in it. The Red soldiers of
the 95th Division occupy two large buildings near the camp, close to the
wood store.

[Illustration: Popoff Island and its Surroundings]

On the northern shore is the wireless station, in winter the sole means
of communication with Solovetsky Island. The wireless station of the
monastery is in the Kremlin. In clear weather the notorious Sekirova
hill, on Solovetsky Island, can be plainly seen from the Popoff Island

The concentration camp is a rectangular enclosure some two hundred yards
long and one hundred and fifty yards wide. It stands on a marsh at the
south-eastern corner of the island, with heaps of stones scattered about
it. The marsh promotes the spread of malaria, scurvy and lung
complaints. The prisoners are fearfully tormented by the peculiarly
poisonous mosquitoes of the Solovetsky Islands, which breed in swarms on
the marsh and give one no peace either by day or by night.

The camp is surrounded by a high wire fence; along this, at intervals,
stand huts for the sentries, each containing eight men. The Red soldiers
in the guardroom outside the camp, generally thirty-eight in number,
form a reserve force, to assist or replace the guards outside if needed.
The Tchekists on duty are quartered in the commandant's office inside
the camp.

All entrance to and exit from the camp is through the main gate, which
is guarded by special sentries. The second gate (marked 11 on the plan)
is kept permanently shut and is regarded as a reserve entrance.

Most of the huts in the camp were erected by the British troops which
co-operated with the Russian Northern Army under General Miller. A few
were constructed by prisoner labour under the Soviet regime. Until 1925
the camp possessed no latrine, hospital, electric power station, or
workshops. There were no tracks, either of boards or of earth. Until
quite lately the prisoners used to sink into the sticky slime of the
marsh, and the huts were flooded with liquid mud.

The wooden tracks consist of boards and planks, supported by small piles
sunk in the marsh. There are in all five of these roads or paths. The
principal road runs from the main gate to the eastern side of the wire
fence, and is called the Nevsky Prospekt. Others run from the reserve
entrance to the Nevsky Prospekt, from the Nevsky Prospekt to the
latrine, from the Nevsky Prospekt to hut No. 1 (marked 29 on the plan),
where the politicals live, and from the last store hut to the hospital
hut (marked 36 on the plan).

[Illustration: The Camp on Popoff Island]

Earth tracks run from the Nevsky Prospekt along the line of store huts
(30 to 33 on the plan), from the Nevsky Prospekt past the kitchen,
workshops, and electric power station to the hospital, and from the
commandant's office past the huts where the _shpana_ and "K.R.'s" are
quartered. Besides these there are a few narrow, rough tracks through
the marsh — from the politicals' hut to the kitchen, and elsewhere.

The commandant's office is in hut No. 2 (marked 19 on the plan). This
hut is divided off into several compartments for the use of the various
branches of camp government — administrative, economic, etc. The
"specialist company," which is quartered in hut No. 4 (marked 20 on the
plan), consists of tailors, bootmakers, joiners, and so on, who satisfy
the requirements of the administration and the Red soldiers.

The electric power station is in charge of an engineer named Krassin. He
was previously in the Customs service, but was dismissed for peculation
and sent to the Solovky. The workshops are under an "adherent of
Savinkoff," the kitchen is in charge of an ex-colonel named Rashevsky,
and the stables of another "K.R." named Larin.

The business manager of the camp is one Pavloff (Nikolai Nikolaevitch),
a corrupt rascal. He takes bribes on the auction principle; he who
offers most carries the day. I give one example. There is no water on
Popoff Island; it has to be brought from Kem, and two carts with
cisterns are kept for this purpose. As fetching water is easier work
than digging up tree-stumps, there is great competition for this job.
Pavloff asked openly who would give most for it. There were three
prisoners who had managed to bring a good deal of money with them; they
offered more than anyone else — 150 roubles between them — and they were
still fetching water to the camp when I got away.

The higher camp authorities live in a small fishing settlement of about
seventy cottages, a short distance outside the wire fence. The senior
official on duty is quartered in the camp.



_The "Distributing Hut" — Robbed the First Night — Criminals' Unwritten
Code — Punishment of a Traitor — The Professor's Parcel — Successful

All newly arrived prisoners are sent first of all to the "distributing
hut" of the camp on Popoff Island.

Hardly have you set foot on the now accursed soil of the Solovky before
you feel the power of the _shpana_. When our party, consisting of
"counter-revolutionaries" from the Caucasus, bishops and monks, a group
of Casino-ites and many others, arrived at hut No. 6 (the "distributing
hut"), we were met by armed Tchekists, themselves prisoners. They wanted
to know first of all whether there were any Gpu employees or any
criminal agents among us, for if so they might not go into the hut; the
ordinary criminals would kill them at once. Several men stood aside.

The rest of us entered hut No. 6. It was a huge wooden shed, filled to
overflowing with _shpana_. There were board-beds in two tiers, one above
the other. The beds and the floor under the lower tier were covered with
half-naked bodies. The stench was so awful that I nearly fell down.
Drunken yells and drunken weeping, the most disgusting abuse. There was
a feeble glow from a lamp in a corner.

I describe the "distributing hut" in some detail because all new
arrivals have to go through this torturing stage of their captivity,
and, further, because nothing could be more characteristic of the whole
conditions in the Solovetsky camps.

Having been warned by our earlier experience at Rostoff, we lay down on
our things, putting them under our heads. But this precaution proved to
be inadequate. I was awakened during the night by a fearful noise.
Staring into the semi-darkness, I perceived with horror that all our
things had been stolen — our provisions plundered, our baskets,
suitcases and boxes broken open. Yells resounded from one corner, where
one of the _shpana_ who had taken too much for himself was being
sentenced to a beating by an assize of his fellow-criminals. In another
corner three criminals were hitting one of their comrades over the head
with pieces of wood; he was dripping with blood, but still refused to
give up the linen he held tightly under his arm. On the upper tier of
beds, close to the ceiling, the national card game, _tri listika_, was
already being played with our money. At the door a knot of _shpana_ were
conducting trade negotiations with the sentry, exchanging somebody's rug
for spirits.

We "K.R.'s" decided next morning that it was useless to make a
complaint. But one of the politicals in our party, a Social
Revolutionary, indignantly told the commandant about the behaviour of
the _shpana_ who had left him with only one shirt in winter time. The
commandant, for form's sake, appeared in the hut and called in timid

"Give back the things! What disgraceful conduct!"

The criminals answered with a roar of laughter; but the next night they
would have killed the "S.R." if we had not defended him.

Next morning an old inhabitant of the camp, Bishop Illarion Trotsky, the
right-hand man of the late Patriarch Tikhon, was ordered to conduct our
party to hut No. 9.

An unwritten internal discipline binds the ordinary criminals together.
These starving, half-naked gallows-birds, dying by scores daily from
scurvy and syphilis, never take a risk. The peculiar favour and
protection which all the authorities of the Solovky, without exception,
extend to the _shpana_ is very simply explained.

The hostility which the ordinary criminal instinctively feels towards
the "K.R.", the educated _barin_, is felt in an equal degree by every
Tchekist in the Solovky, though he also sees in each "K.R." a
counter-revolutionary, a Monarchist, a _bourgeois_. A further reason why
complaints against the _shpana_ are fruitless is that a large part of
the Solovetsky administration are closely connected with the criminal
classes, not only in their mentality, but in their pre-Revolution

When I arrived at Popoff Island, there were about 1,400 _shpana_ in the
camp; the number of "K.R.'s" could have been divided into this total
several times, and there were only seventy "politicals and party men."
The last-named, for reasons which I will explain later, do no work at
all, and "Mother" was continually letting the _shpana_ off labour of all
kinds, so that the whole immense burden of the work to be done was
placed upon the shoulders of the "K.R.'s."

This is still the case, although in a lesser degree: the _shpana_ do
little work, the politicals none at all, and the "K.R.'s" bear the whole

The criminals' curious code of ethics combines all the _shpana_ of the
Solovetsky Islands into one indivisible unit. This code of ethics is
ruthlessly applied. If the criminals discover that there is a
_sutchenyi_ among their number — this word means in their language a
turncoat, a traitor, who is betraying their secrets to the authorities —
he is immediately put to death in the most cruel manner. Nowhere is the
principle "one for all and all for one" put into application in so high
a degree as among the common criminals of the Solovky.

In the middle of 1924 a gang of footpads, who had for a long time evaded
all attempts to capture them, were arrested in Moscow. Their leader was
a bandit named Moiseiko; his fellow-robbers nicknamed him Petlura, for
which reason the members of the band were called "Petlurists." These
footpads had on their conscience, besides a number of armed robberies,
many "wet affairs" (a "wet affair" means a murder in the thieves'
language). One of the most active of the Petlurists, known as
Avrontchik, turned _sutchenyi_, betrayed the gang and brought about its

The gang consisted of thirty-eight persons, both men and women. Thirty
of them were "sent to the left" (thieves' jargon for "shot") in the
Butyrka prison in Moscow. Eight men, among them Avrontchik, and four
women (the wives of men who had been shot) were despatched to the
Solovky. When the "traitor" arrived at the "distributing hut," the
surviving Petlurists burst in and almost beat him to death. The male
Petlurists were arrested and Avrontchik taken to hospital. But he was
not safe even in hospital; the four women of the band entered the
hospital hut and killed Avrontchik, smashing in his skull.

The affair was referred to Moscow. The Gpu replied briefly: "shoot." In
November, 1924, the remaining Petlurists, men and women, fell to
Tchekist bullets, confirming by their death the principles of the

If the _shpana_ do not shrink from murdering persons objectionable to
them, much less does the robbing of all and sundry seem to them a thing
to be boggled at. Further, they are compelled to rob by continual
hunger, cold — in the Solovky one quite often sees _shpana_ prisoners
_absolutely naked_ — and their passion for cards and drink.

Their robberies, the victims of which are invariably "K.R.'s," are
planned with quite professional ingenuity. As I have said, on our
arrival at Popoff Island we were moved from hut No. 6 to hut No. 9. This
hut is divided into four compartments by wooden partitions. In the first
compartment lived the headman of the camp, in the second the
Casino-ites, the third was the camp prison, and in the fourth were we
"K.R.'s," having a common wall with the prison.

Several times the _shpana_ played the following trick on us. They
committed some offence more serious than usual, and so, intentionally,
got into the prison; then they bored a hole in the wooden wall which
separated the prison from our quarters, quite close to the floor, and at
night, creeping noiselessly under the beds, stole our things, food and
money. If anyone tried to recover the things, they beat him to death.

The _shpana_ always shared their plunder with the prison guards and the
headman, so that nobody paid any attention to our complaints, and once
the headman declared that we ourselves had robbed each other.

Sometimes the robberies were followed by impudent blackmail, also with
the close connivance of the _personnel_. For example, among the
prisoners in our hut was Professor Krivatch-Niemanetz, a very old man,
over seventy. He was a Czech by nationality and had been employed in the
Commissariat for Foreign Affairs as a translator. He was sent to the
Solovky (for ten years) by virtue of that clause of the Criminal Code
under which foreigners are always sent there — Clause 66, "espionage for
the benefit of the international _bourgeoisie_." Of course he was
absolutely innocent. Krivatch-Niemanetz was very popular in the camp and
profoundly respected, mainly because he could speak nearly all the
languages in the world fluently, including Chinese, Japanese and
Turkish, not to mention all the European languages.

The Professor had received a parcel of things from the "Political Red
Cross," which was presided over by Madame Peshkova, the wife of Maxim
Gorky, and extended its help only to "politicals and party men." It
evidently regarded "K.R.'s" as simply bandits, delivered as such to the
caprice of Fate, the Solovetsky administration and the _shpana_.

He was as delighted with the parcel as a child, but alas! not for long.
The _shpana_ had got into the prison again; once more they broke through
the wall and stole our things, including Krivatch-Niemanetz's parcel. In
the morning the criminals had recourse to blackmail, a method of theirs
by this time familiar to us all; they sent to the Professor — by a
Tchekist — a letter in which they offered to give him back his things
for 6 tchervontsy (about £6). The Czech, freezing in the draughty hut,
accepted the offer as genuine despite our warnings, and sent the
_shpana_ — through the same Tchekist — all the money he had, leaving
himself literally without a kopek. As we expected, he never got either
his things or his money back!

Some time after this a number of the _shpana_ left the Solovky, among
them the men who had robbed the Professor. On their way south they sent
him a letter in which they promised "never to forget the dear Professor
to their last day."

The criminals regard stripping the "K.R.'s" almost as a point of honour,
but stripping their own comrades, their fellow-criminals, as a crime to
be severely punished. There is a special hut on Popoff Island in which
all the parcels for the "K.R.'s" and politicals on Solovetsky Island
received during the autumn and winter are kept until navigation opens
and it is possible to communicate with the monastery; when spring comes
they are sent to the monastery by a special steamer. Several times
members of the _shpana_ broke into this hut, enjoyed the fruits of their
pillage with impunity and received the full approval of their fellows.
But once, when a party plundered the hut at a time when some parcels for
ordinary criminals were there, they were cruelly man-handled by their
comrades and two of them actually killed.



_Hardest Labour Done by "K.R.'s" — Counter-revolutionary: a
Comprehensive Term — A Variegated Multitude — Special Persecution of the
Clergy — Prominent Clerical Prisoners._

On Solovetsky Island the "politicals and party men" live in separate
cells — hermits' caves — and on Popoff Island in a special hut. Both at
the monastery and in the Kem camp the "K.R.'s" live in company with the
ordinary criminals. The cells of the monastery and the huts of the camps
are filled to overflowing with a carefully mixed crowd of
"counter-revolutionaries" and _shpana_.

The "K.R.'s" not only do all the hardest labour, and have to keep their
own quarters clean, but are obliged to cleanse the criminals' bedsteads
of dirt, remains of food, spittle and lice. Whenever a new party of
"K.R.'s" arrive, they are compelled to clean out the huts, which the
_shpana_ have made so filthy that the task makes many of the "K.R.'s"
sick. In 1924, it took 1,500 "K.R.'s" two whole months to clean out the
camp on Popoff Island. It is sufficient to say that the criminals very
often fulfil the requirements of Nature on the spot, i.e., in the huts.

The _shpana_, of course, are not in the least grateful for having all
this done for them. On the contrary, this work of the "K.R.'s", so
utterly degrading to human self-respect, is accepted by the criminals as
a matter of course, and only exposes those who do it to fresh outrage
from the _shpana_, supported by the camp _personnel_.

For example, when we had cleansed the hut indicated by the authorities
of all the filth that was in it, the grateful _shpana_ sent us an
ultimatum, with a detailed schedule of the quantities of bread, sugar,
tobacco, tea, etc., which were to be handed over immediately to the
criminal who brought the ultimatum. If we failed to comply with the
ultimatum, we were told, we should be first beaten and then plundered in
more thorough fashion.

We had to hand over the things demanded. Ultimatums of this kind are
very fashionable among the _shpana_; the "K.R.'s" are snowed under with
them, both at the monastery and in the Kem camp.

It is very hard to give an exact account or analysis of the prisoners
labelled "K.R.'s." Their number is considerable — there are nearly three
thousand on Solovetsky Island — and they are composed of such variegated
elements that a general definition of a "K.R." is very hard to arrive
at. A division of them into groups, even an approximate one, will
enlighten the reader in a general sense as to who the "K.R.'s" are, and
why they are in the Solovky, but it is bound to be incomplete; there are
in the camps many "K.R.'s" whom one does not know where to place.

There are in the Northern Camps for Special Purposes many
representatives of the so-called liberal professions — engineers,
barristers, literary men, artists, teachers, doctors. There are many
teachers from the primary and secondary schools and from the
universities, both men and women; the latter are in a majority. There
are a considerable number of non-party peasants and workmen, artisans
and small employees. The Cossacks of the Don, the Kuban and Siberia, and
the peoples of the Caucasus, are strongly represented. Of the
non-Russians who are Soviet subjects the most numerous are Estonians,
Poles, Karelians (some of those who returned from Finland on the
strength of an "amnesty")[21] and Jews. The last-named are sent to the
Solovky, in most cases with their families, either for adhering to
Zionism, or for "economic counter-revolution," or for so-called "armed
banditism" — by which the Gpu understands anything it pleases, from
membership (even in the past) of a Monarchist party to the manufacture
of counterfeit notes.

There are many foreigners in the Solovky; I will allude to them in
greater detail later.

The largest categories of all consist of officers of the old and the new
armies, business men, pre-Revolution and of the "Nepman"[22] order,
important representatives of the old regime, the bureaucracy and the
aristocracy, and also the clergy.

At the present time there are some three hundred bishops, priests and
monks in the Solovky; to this number should be added several hundred
laymen who were sent to the Solovky along with them, generally under
Clause 72 of the Criminal Code — "ecclesiastical counter-revolution,
resistance to the confiscation of church valuables, propaganda, the
education of children in a religious sense," and so on. The clergy at
the Solovky, though more oppressed and humiliated by the camp
authorities than any other category of prisoners, are remarkable for the
submissiveness and stoicism with which they endure their moral and
physical sufferings.

Being accustomed to hard bodily labour from childhood, the clergy are
rightly considered to be the best workers in the camps, and from this
point of view are almost valued by the administration, though it
exploits them infamously. Priests are sent to do all the most exhausting
tasks. For example, whole sections of the narrow-gauge railway were laid
entirely by clerics.

All kinds of religious services, of course, are forbidden. One of the
priests in the camp on Popoff Island, a feeble old man, died. He begged
the commandant with tears in his eyes to allow the Vladika Illarion to
administer the Holy Sacrament to him. The commandant refused in abusive

Every day in the year is counted as a working day, and at Easter and
Christmas the authorities endeavour to give the clergy the most
degrading work possible — for example, cleaning out the latrines.

Among the most prominent clerics confined in the Northern Camps for
Special Purposes are the following:

The Vladika Illarion (Trotsky), head of the diocese of Moscow and the
right-hand man of the late Patriarch Tikhon. Neither when at liberty nor
in prison has the Metropolitan Illarion ever entered into conflict with
the Soviet power; but he has always been a vehement champion of pure
Orthodoxy as a counterpoise to the "living Church," which is liberally
subsidised by the Gpu. For the defence of his faith, and for his
intimate connection with the Patriarch Tikhon, the bishop was sent to
Archangel for three years and served his term of punishment under the
most horrifying conditions. He returned to Moscow and again vigorously
opposed the "living Church," took a skilful part in religious
discussions, mercilessly shattered the Communistic babble of his
opponent Lunatcharsky,[23] and was transported once more — this time to
the Solovky.

The Vladika Masuil (Lemeshevsky) directed the affairs of the diocese of
Petrograd after the shooting of the Metropolitan Venianin. Sentenced to
transportation under Clause 72 of the Criminal Code — "ecclesiastical
counter-revolution" — by which the Bolsheviks understand, _inter alia_,
the defence of Orthodoxy against the destructive attacks of the "living
Church," the bishop arrived at the Solovky in September, 1924. Six other
bishops and monks and twelve laymen were sent there at the same time and
for the same cause.

Bishop Seraphim (Kolpinsky), Bishop Peter (Sokoloff), Acting Bishop of
Saratoff, and Bishop Pitirim (Kryloff), the Igumen of the Kazan
Monastery, as well as about fifteen members of the black and white
clergy from that monastery, were all sent to the Solovky under this same
Clause 72. Hundreds of other bishops, priests and monks were
transported, not only because the religion they professed was "opium for
the people,"[24] but because they would not approve the plundering of
the churches for purposes which had nothing to do with the relief of the
famine victims, and which they denounced to the public as the work of
the supporters of the "living Church," bought by the Government.

[Footnote 21: They had taken refuge in Finland after the suppression by
the Bolsheviks of the rebellion in Eastern Karelia at the beginning of

[Footnote 22: The term "Nepman" was applied to business men who grew
rich under the "N.E.P." (New Economic Policy), introduced by the Soviet
Government in 1922.]

[Footnote 23: People's Commissary for Education in the Soviet

[Footnote 24: Lenin's phrase.]



_A Wife and her Husband — Annual "Amnesty" Swindle — Boris Savinkoff's
Terrible End — Famine Relief a Crime — Dzerzhinsky in a New Light — An
Indefatigable Vermin-hunter — Aged Hostages Tortured._

The grounds for which people have been transported to the Solovky are so
various, and very often so completely baseless, that one cannot help
supposing them to be pure inventions of the Tchekist "jurisprudence."

For example, among the prisoners there is the aged Countess Frederiks.
During the war, as a Red Cross nurse, the old lady performed admirable
service in tending wounded officers and men. And now, in the camp, she
receives no parcels from the Red Cross, gives what help she can to the
sick, and lives in a state of permanent semi-starvation, ceaselessly
subjected to jeers and insults. She was transported for no other reason
than that she had the misfortune to be the sister of Count Frederiks,
who was Minister of the Imperial Court under the murdered Tsar, and was
well-known as an intimate counsellor of Nicholas II. And while she was
sent to the Solovky, the Count himself, a very old man of nearly a
hundred, was until lately living in freedom in Petrograd; only quite
recently was he given permission to leave for Finland.

In one of the cells on Solovetsky Island (the so-called Women's
Building) the wife of a prominent minister of the old regime is
perishing of under-nourishment and unaccustomed hard bodily labour. The
official note of the decision in her case ran: "Transported to the
Solovky for five years, as being the wife of a minister of Bloody
Nicholas!" The minister himself fills a conspicuous post at Moscow under
the Soviet Government!

A locksmith named Timoshenko was sent from Voronesh to the Solovky for
two years. He was a simple workman and had had nothing whatever to do
with politics. He continually endeavoured to obtain from Vasko an answer
to his question — for what offence he had been sent to a concentration
camp. Not till 1925, when his term of two years expired, was he accused
of belonging to the "Savinkoff counter-revolutionary organisation" and
sent to cool his heels for three years more in the Narym region.

At the same time other "Savinkoffists" were sent to the Solovky from
Novokhopersk, a district town in the Government of Voronesh. They were:
Vrashnikoff, former agent of Count Vorontsoff-Dashkoff's property in the
Caucasus; Savinoff, a technician; Krivjakin, the business manager of a
Soviet institution, and others. To these were added an engineer named
Novitsky, from the Government of Poltava, and a crowd of peasants from
the Government of Voronesh. Many of the peasants, when told at the
Solovky that they were charged with complicity in "Savinkoff's
conspiracy," asked doubtfully:

"Savinkoff?[25] Who's he? A general?"

When I was in the Solovky, one Epstein arrived there; he had been
sentenced to three years. When he asked why he had been transported, he
received from the examining judge the answer:

"Because you're a business man!"

Exactly the same answer was received by another criminal, a Jew tailor
named Gurieff, who kept a ready-made clothes shop. (He is now in charge
of the tailors' workshop in the Kem camp.)

Not long ago two Poles, named Minitch and Vintovsky, fled to Russia from
Poland. The frontier authorities gave a ceremonial reception to the men,
who had "escaped from cruel imprisonment by the Polish Pans," but the
Moscow Gpu sent them to the Solovky for three years. The two Poles are
now cursing the day when they decided to cross the frontier of the
"freest Government in the world!"

Every year there arrive at Kem some two thousand "K.R.'s," who are sent
on to Solovetsky Island when navigation is possible. The arrivals are
especially numerous during the months which immediately precede November
7th (October 25th, old style), the date of the Bolshevist Revolution of

Every year at this time the Vtsik — thus controverting "the malignant
lies of the international _bourgeoisie_ and the shameless _émigrés_"
about the cruelty of the Soviet power — publishes a wide amnesty to "all
enemies of the ruling proletariat." The presidents of the provincial and
district branches of the Gpu, by way of carrying out the directions of
the humane Vtsik, shoot half their prisoners a few days before the
amnesty and send the rest to the concentration camps, to which the terms
of the amnesty decree state that it is not extended.

Thus, in reality, nobody is amnestied on November 7th. The Vtsik is
satisfied, the Gpu is satisfied too; "the lies of the shameless
_bourgeoisie_" have been exposed.

I could fill several pages with the names of people who have been
"amnestied" in this manner. I will quote, as an example, a case in which
not only the individual who was stupid enough to believe in the good
faith of the Tchekists, but his relations too, were "amnestied." At the
end of 1923 a soldier of Denikin's army, a peasant from the Government
of Poltava, returned to Russia on the strength of the amnesty proclaimed
by the Soviet Government in November of that year. He was given a Soviet
passport on the frontier, and on arriving at his home went to the
provincial Gpu, was registered, was sent away again and spent several
days with his family.

Result — at the beginning of 1924 the soldier was sent to the Narym
region of Siberia for three years, while his father and father's sister
were despatched by the Gpu to the Solovky for _concealing a
counter-revolutionary_ (Clause 68 of the Criminal Code)! At the time of
my escape these peasants, the victims of this singular "amnesty," were
still in the Solovky, waiting to be sent on to the Zyriansk region.

"Amnestied" _émigrés_ are continually being sent to the Solovky. Just
before my escape a large party of _émigrés_ arrived, nine-tenths of them
private soldiers; there were a few officers, among them a cavalry
subaltern named Menuel and Saprunenko, who had been aide-de-camp to the
Ukrainian hetman Skoropadsky.

The Soviet power extends a real amnesty only to people, whether
_émigrés_ or living in Soviet Russia, whose names can be used later as a
decoy. Such gentlemen, for example, as ex-General Slastschoff and
similar renegades can live in freedom and even occupy responsible posts
so long as this suits the book of the Gpu, so long as the Gpu reckons
that it can make use of the name of one of these "signal-changers"[26]
to prove "the good faith of the Soviet power, which amnesties all
repentant _émigrés_." But as soon as the renegade in question has "done
his job," he can go away, or, to be more correct, he is sent away, to
exile or to the next world. It is sufficient to recall the fate of the
well-known Social Revolutionary Savinkoff, who was "amnestied" by the
Bolsheviks — after which the Tchekists flung him from a fifth-floor
window of his prison.

Ordinary _émigrés_ who return are immediately sent to the Solovky or the
Narym region — that is to say, if the "supreme measure of punishment"
(shooting) has not already been applied to them. The latter fate, as a
rule, awaits officers.

The Soviet Government, returning evil for good, sends to the
concentration camps people who have "besmirched themselves" by working
with organisations of which the unhappy Russian people will always
retain a grateful memory. Among the prisoners at the Solovky is a
dentist named Malivanoff, a Moscow Jew. Malivanoff gave active help to
the A.R.A. (the American relief organisation for the benefit of the
famine victims), with the result that he was sent to the Solovky for
five years. As the Criminal Code of the U.S.S.R. does not at present
provide any punishment for giving relief to famine victims, the clause
relating to "economic espionage" was applied to Malivanoff! A number of
other Russians who worked with the A.R.A. and famine relief
organisations from other countries were sent by the grateful Gpu to
Siberia, to the Narym and Petchersk regions.

Karpoff, well known as the stage manager of the Alexandrinsk Theatre in
Petrograd, and subsequently of the Great and Little Theatres in Moscow,
was sent to the Solovky in company with other artists — Jurovsky,
Georges, etc. — on the charge of "counter-revolution." During my stay
there he was sent on to another place of exile.

If the Tchekists want to transport somebody, but cannot find a handle
for doing so, Clauses 68 ("concealing a counter-revolutionary") and 72
("ecclesiastical counter-revolution") serve their purpose most

One of the most peculiar cases is that of a man named Witte, from
Petrograd, who was transported because he bore "a counter-revolutionary

There are Communist engineers — _e.g._, one Osipoff, who was famous
throughout the camp for the incredible quantity of lice on his body —
naval officers who had been "seksoty,"[27] jewellers, hair-dressers,
landowners, followers of Makhno (the Ukrainian guerilla leader),
"economic bandits," commanders of the Gpu troops, watchmakers — in
short, prisoners of every conceivable profession, position, rank and

The case of the brothers Myshelovin, watchmakers, was a curious one.
They were both accused of forging and uttering notes, although the
evidence given before the examining judge and the results of a
domiciliary visit showed that while one of the two brothers had actually
uttered counterfeit notes, the other was completely innocent. And what
was the decision of the Gpu? It sent the guilty brother to the Solovky
for three years — and the innocent one for ten years!! The motives of
Tchekist "courts" in pronouncing such sentences as this must always be a
mystery to us all.

A very interesting figure was the technical engineer Krasilnikoff
(Nicholas Dimitrievitch). He had been sent to the Solovky for
"ecclesiastical counter-revolution," but in reality he had had no
connection with anything of the kind. Before the Revolution he had been
well known in Petrograd as an able and vehement opponent of Socialism of
all shades. When the Bolsheviks came into power, Volodarsky sent for him
several times and tried to persuade him to stop preaching
counter-revolution. But the truculent engineer, taking advantage of his
immense authority among the workers, continued to make speeches and
publish his pamphlets. He soon migrated to Moscow and there continued
his activities, the tendency of which was, as in pre-Revolution days, to
discredit Socialism of all kinds.

Dzerzhinsky himself was interested in Krasilnikoff and sent for him. The
engineer appeared at the Gpu headquarters, and there, in the study of
the President of the Extraordinary Commission, Dzerzhinsky and
Krasilnikoff disputed for hours on end about Socialism and its Utopian
aims. It must have been almost the only time in his life that
Dzerzhinsky permitted freedom of speech — and that in the very offices
of the Gpu! Krasilnikoff — a brilliant speaker — endeavoured to persuade
the head Tchekist to abandon all hope of being able to make a reality of
such nonsense as Socialism. Dzerzhinsky would not agree, but put forward
arguments on the other side.

The night wore on. Dzerzhinsky offered the engineer a camp bed in his
study, and in the morning ordered that he should be given coffee and
allowed to go. Soon after, however, he was arrested by subordinate
Tchekists and sent to the Solovky.

In the camp, Krasilnikoff was literally eaten up by lice. I myself,
having passed through dozens of prisons on my way north, possessed the
experience of a lifetime in the matter of vermin; but never and nowhere
have I seen such multitudes of lice as on the engineer. Every morning
and every evening he used to kill vermin in incredible quantities,
remarking every time he caught one:

"Aha, got him — that's another!"

The Solovky swallow up old and young alike. In February, 1925, fifty
students and schoolboys from Theodosia, Sevastopol, Simferopol and
Yalta, in the Crimea, arrived at Popoff Island. They had all got three
years for organising a "counter-revolutionary conspiracy in complicity
with the foreign _bourgeoisie_." The latter was alleged to be directing
the conspiracy from Constantinople, but the whole thing was quite
unproved. Besides adult students, the party included some twenty pupils
of the middle and upper classes in the secondary schools, quite boys

Not long before I came to the Solovky, the Gpu of the Trans-Caucasian
Soviet Republic had sent thither forty Tchetchentsy,[28] very old men.
One of them looked out of the window of a hut, which is forbidden by
some Tchekists, on which the whole party were sent to the Sekirova hill
— notorious at the Solovky as the place of torture —, put into "stone
sacks" (an operation described in a later chapter) and flogged with
"Smolensky sticks" till they fainted. One of these aged men was 110
years old.

These old Tchetchentsy had been transported as hostages for their sons,
grandsons and great-grandsons who had joined guerilla bands and were
waging a ceaseless war with the Bolsheviks — a war which is still going
on. They themselves had not committed any kind of offence.

The practice of taking hostages, and of carrying out violent reprisals
on the relations and even the acquaintances of rebels and _émigrés_, has
been developed by the Soviet power into an elaborate system of terror,
which shrinks from nothing that may help it to attain the object in view
— the submission of the entire Russian people to the will of the leaders
of the Communist Party.

[Footnote 25: Boris Savinkoff, the well-known Social Revolutionary
leader, see p. 109.]

[Footnote 26: _Smienoviekhovtsy_, "signal-changers" — a name popularly
given to people, formerly of anti-Soviet opinions, who have changed
their political course and become reconciled to the Bolshevist

[Footnote 27: _Sekretnye sotrudniki_; secret collaborators (with the

[Footnote 28: A Caucasian nationality.]



_Modern Cave Dwellers — Why They are Better Treated — Cultural
Privileges — Socialists' Courage and Discipline — Hunger Strikes —
Common Criminals "Unloaded" — A Remarkable Soviet Pamphlet._

The "politicals and party men" on Solovetsky Island at the present time
number about five hundred, including a hundred and fifty women and
several dozen children. Children are placed on the same footing as adult
prisoners as regards rights and obligations, and so receive rations. On
Popoff Island there are now sixty male politicals and twenty women. Most
of them are members of the Social Revolutionary, Social Democratic,
"Bund" and Anarchist parties, and intermediary shades, transported to
the Solovky for active opposition to the Soviet power in the years
1917-19 and passive criticism of its actions in the years that followed.

Solovetsky Island is roughly forty miles in circumference and is rich in
caves, inhabited in bygone days by religious monks, hermits and holy men
vowed to silence. These caves, cut in the rock, recall mediæval country
houses. They are scattered about the island, the distance from the
monastery varying from three to six or even ten miles. Here the
politicals are settled in parties, twenty or thirty persons in each

In the Kem camp they live in a special hut, No. 11 (marked 29 on the
plan), which is divided into two rooms, one for the men and one for the
women and children. The hut is surrounded by a wire fence and is guarded
by special sentries.

On Solovetsky Island the "politicals and party men" can walk about the
island and visit each other quite freely, without guards. On Popoff
Island they are taken out for exercise with a sentry, not accompanied by
"K.R.'s" or ordinary criminals.

Standing much closer, in their ideology, to the Bolsheviks (if the
Bolsheviks can be said to have any ideology) than the "K.R.'s" do, the
politicals naturally receive a certain consideration from the Soviet
authorities and have some attention paid to their needs and demands. In
this respect the Soviet power is influenced partly by the right wing of
the Communist Party and to a considerable extent by the Socialists of
Western Europe, to whose utterances the Communists, despite their
assertions to the contrary, listen attentively. The result is that while
it sends "politicals and party men" to places of exile, it keeps them
there under conditions which are paradise compared to the quite
insupportable existence of the "K.R.'s" in the Solovky and in the other
concentration camps.

It was not till after the "change of cabinet" in the spring of 1924 that
the "K.R.'s" were permitted to correspond with their relations — the
letters being carefully read by the Tchekists — and to receive parcels
from them. The politicals have always enjoyed these rights.

If a "K.R." has no relations, or his relations are not in a position to
send him money, food and other necessaries, he is doomed to death from
starvation, for the camp ration, issued for ten days in advance, is
sufficient for two days only. In this connection, it should not be
forgotten that the Gpu, when it sends a "K.R." to a place of exile,
generally confiscates all the property belonging to him and his family.
The politicals receive everything they need in abundance, not only from
their relations, but also from (1) the "Political Red Cross" presided
over by Madame Peshkova,[29] (2) from foreign Socialist organisations,
which send help on a most generous scale, and (3) from the "committee
for the assistance of Russian prisoners and exiles." It must be
emphatically stated that the "K.R.'s" did not once receive any help from
this body.

The politicals have their own library, which is continually supplemented
with new Russian and foreign books. They are allowed to subscribe to
Soviet newspapers and foreign journals of a non-political character.
They are allowed to form societies for cultural purposes. The leaders of
the politicals read papers on various questions and organise debates,
both in the caves and in hut No. 11. The politicals are allowed to
occupy themselves with sport. The administration listens attentively to
any complaints they may make.

The "K.R.'s" have no advantages of the kind. The camp reading-room is at
their disposal, but as the _shpana_ periodically turn it into a latrine,
no "K.R." ever puts his nose inside it. Two publications are received in
the camps, the newspaper _Bednota_ (Poverty) and the periodical
_Bezbozhnik_ (The Godless One), but even this literature the "K.R.'s" do
not get hold of until two or three months after its arrival, for it is
read first by the Kem administration, then by the Solovetsky
administration, and then by the Red soldiers. Of course, the "K.R.'s"
are not allowed to carry on any work of a cultural, let alone a
political nature, and in any case they would have no time, ceaselessly
occupied as they are with work beyond their strength. How the
administration treats complaints from "K.R.'s" the reader knows already.
Finally, the politicals, according to established tradition, do no work
at all, which is at the same time an immense privilege and an atrocious
injustice. All the work, both "outside" (outside the camps) and "inside"
(inside the camps), falls on the shoulders, first and foremost, of the
"K.R.'s" and in a lesser degree of the _shpana_ — the latter only in
quite recent times.

But is it solely due to the sympathy of foreign Socialists, and a
certain degree of conciliatoriness on the part of the Soviet Government,
that the "politicals and party men" have been able to secure themselves
a more or less bearable existence in the Solovky? Certainly not. It is
in a large degree the achievement of the politicals themselves.

I am a convinced opponent of the politicals' social programme, the
ultimate aspirations of which are indistinguishable from those of the
Bolshevist programme and are absolutely Utopian. But none the less, I
will pay due tribute to the persistency and fearlessness they have shown
in upholding, if need be at personal sacrifice, the claims put forward
by them as a corporate body in order to alleviate the detestable
conditions of their life as exiles.

The discipline among the Socialists in the Solovky excels even that of
the _shpana_. They will face a hunger strike, a rebellion, even death
itself almost without hesitation, to attain the object they have set
before them.

In the winter of 1923 the politicals at the Solovetsky Monastery, then
over a thousand strong, made a skating rink near one of the caves. The
camp administration observed parties of skaters on the rink singing
revolutionary songs. They were ordered to stop singing, but did not
obey. Then Nogteff brought a platoon of Red soldiers down to the rink
and opened fire on the skaters without warning. Nine of them (six men
and three women) were killed and many wounded.

The politicals declared a hunger strike and demanded that a commission
of inquiry should be sent from Moscow. The whole body of them took part
in the strike, on Popoff Island as well as on Solovetsky Island. Some of
them could not stand upright from exhaustion, and were taken to
hospital. One of these was the well-known "S.R." Bogdanoff, who until he
was transferred to the Narym region in April, 1925, was generally
recognised as the leader of the "politicals and party men" in the

Nogteff went to the hospital to persuade them to stop the hunger strike.
He was received with cries of "Executioner!" Bogdanoff, anxious that
Nogteff should not worry the other sick men by his presence in the room,
told the attendants to carry him out into the yard on a stretcher. Then
he asked Nogteff:

"What can I do for you?"

Nogteff began again to try to persuade him to stop the hunger strike.

"Is that all you have to say?" Bogdanoff replied. "Take me back into
hospital. I don't want to talk to a murderer."

The end of it was that the politicals had their way. In September of the
same year a commission, consisting of Smirnoff (public prosecutor of the
Supreme Court of the U.S.S.R.), Katanian (public prosecutor of the Gpu),
and Soltz, was appointed. But the Socialists did not get from the
commission what they expected. Nogteff was not punished in any way for
shooting the nine persons. The commission found that he had acted in

In the summer of 1924 the politicals again declared a hunger strike.
This time they demanded that the food should be improved. The hunger
strike lasted thirteen days. Several persons died, and about a hundred
were taken to hospital. Moscow was appealed to, and this time granted
the politicals' demand. From that time onward they began to receive
daily 2 lbs. of bread (white and black), 1 lb. of meat, good butter,
milk, eggs, etc., and these rations are still being issued to them at
the time of writing.

At the end of 1924 and the beginning of 1925 students expelled from the
universities began to arrive in the Solovky from Petrograd, Moscow and
other towns. The Soviet Government had begun to expel and arrest
students of _bourgeois_ origin in order to make room for Communists.[30]

They came in three parties. The first two parties, consisting of about a
hundred persons, including thirty women students, arrived at Kem in
August, 1924. They included representatives of all parties (Monarchists,
"S.R.'s," "S.D.'s," Anarchists, etc.). They declared that they were
prisoners of the "political and party" category and demanded that they
should be quartered in caves, with the privileges of the other cave
dwellers, and receive the increased ration. The administration refused
their request. The students declared a hunger strike with the friendly
support of all the politicals. After several persons had died of
starvation the students were recognised as political prisoners and sent
to live in caves on Kond Island.

Kond Island lies about ten miles from the monastery. Formerly "seksoty"
(secret Gpu agents) of both sexes used to be sent there; it is their
business to promote espionage and paid delation among the prisoners.
Nogteff bribes useful people by giving them better rations, gets
everything he wants out of them, and when they are no longer required,
quarters them in remote caves.

The third party of students (twenty-six in number, including two
Anarchists) arrived at Kem in April, 1925. On the journey from Petrograd
to Kem they smashed up the trucks in which they were travelling. Their
demand to be treated as politicals was refused by the administration.
The students, again supported by the politicals, declared a hunger
strike, which lasted five weeks. Nogteff appealed to the Gpu, which
ordered him to send the students back to Petrograd. I do not know what
happened to them afterwards.

The "politicals and party men" carry on all negotiations with the
authorities through "General" Eichmans, as they object to having any
communication with Nogteff. They dare even to boycott publicly the most
exalted representatives of the Gpu and the "Narkomyust" (People's
Commissariat for Justice).

At the end of 1924 a so-called "unloading commission," consisting of
Smirnoff, Katanian, Gleb Boky and a secretary, came to the Solovky. The
prisoners hoped much from it, but their hopes were not realised. The
commission certainly unloaded the Solovky, but only as regards _shpana_;
nearly four hundred ordinary criminals were released, but not a single
"K.R." or political.

When bidding farewell to the departing _shpana_, Katanian announced to
the assembled prisoners:

"If the prisoners who are being released now reform and become useful
citizens of the Soviet Republic, I shall come back next year and
liberate another batch."

Thus the fate of the "K.R.'s" and politicals was made dependent on the
conduct of ordinary criminals when set at liberty!

The commission stayed in the Solovky three days, and spent most of their
time out shooting. The Tchekists exterminated the last survivors of the
wild and tame animals, the latter introduced by the monks at some
earlier period. On the last day Katanian visited the caves on Solovetsky
Island, but the politicals drove him away with cries of "Go away,
murderer! To hell with the executioner!"

The public prosecutor of the Supreme Court, Smirnoff, called a meeting
and made a long speech. His speech was entirely devoted to controverting
"the impudent calumnies of the _émigré_ White Guard Press and foreign
_bourgeois_ newspapers." He attacked in particular the _émigré_
Socialist paper _Dni_[31] for "misleading the proletariat of Europe by
its criminal falsehoods about the Solovky."

On his return to Moscow he wrote and published a pamphlet entitled "The
Solovky" (State Printing Office, Moscow, 1925), in which he stated that
"complete liberty" prevailed there, that the food was "excellent," and
that the treatment of the prisoners by the administration was "more than

To crown the whole performance, Smirnoff did not shrink from open
mockery of the prisoners. A large number of copies of the pamphlet were
sent to the Solovetsky camps and distributed to us — to us, who were
tasting every minute of every day the "liberty," the "excellent food"
and "more than lenient" treatment by the administration of which
Smirnoff talked!

If Nogteff, Eichmans and their fellows listen to what the politicals
have to say, the attitude of the lower _personnel_ can be taken for
granted. The conversations of the politicals with the commanders of the
labour regiments and companies, quartermasters, and overseers of the
kitchens and workshops have the tone of orders. Their headman Bogdanoff,
when speaking to any subordinate in the commandant's office, always
began his sentences with the words "we wish" instead of "we ask." Before
rations were distributed, Bogdanoff used to go to the quartermaster and
choose the best meat, white bread, and so on, for his section of the
prisoners. His successor as headman, the Social Democrat Mamuloff, a
lawyer from Vladikavkaz, enjoys the same rights.

The politicals, having plenty of time to themselves, are able to educate
their children, and bring them up according to their own political
views. One sees a ten-year-old boy, the son of a political, walking
through the huts, greeting the Tchekists and sentries with abuse, and,
when the prisoners ask him in fun to which party he belongs, replying

"I'm a Socialist. Down with the Communist usurpers!"

[Footnote 29: Maxim Gorky's wife, see p. 92.]

[Footnote 30: cf. "The Tcheka," by George Popoff, pp. 257-259.]

[Footnote 31: Published formerly in Berlin, now in Paris, and edited by



_Horrible Companionship — How Card Losses are Paid — A Tchekist's Harem
— "Rouble" and "Half-rouble" Women — Venereal Diseases._

But the greatest blessing the politicals enjoy is that their wives and
children are not compelled to associate with the women of the _shpana_.
The company of these women is horrible.

There are at present about six hundred women in the Solovetsky camps. At
the monastery they are quartered in the "Women's Building" in the
Kremlin; on Popoff Island they occupy the whole of hut No. 1 and
portions of other huts. Three-quarters of them are the wives,
mistresses, relatives or simply the accomplices of the common criminals.

Women are officially transported to the Solovky (and to the Narym
region) for "persistent prostitution." At regular intervals, in all the
large towns of European and Asiatic Russia, raids against prostitutes
are carried out in order that they may be sent to the concentration
camps. The prostitutes, who under the Soviet regime have combined to
form regular professional unions, from time to time organise street
processions in Moscow and Petrograd by way of protest against the raids
and the transportations; but this is of little avail.

The character and ways of the female _shpana_ are so savage that a
description of them, to anyone unacquainted with life in the Solovetsky
prison, may sound like the delusions of a madman.

For example, when they go to the bath-house, they undress a long time
before in their huts and walk about stark naked, to the accompaniment of
roars of laughter and approving remarks from the camp _personnel_.

The female criminals are just as addicted to gambling card games as the
men. If they lose, they hardly ever have any money, decent clothes or
food with which to pay. In consequence, the most barbarous scenes may be
witnessed every day in the camps. The women play cards on the condition
that the loser must immediately go to one of the men's huts and give
herself to ten men one after the other. This must take place in the
presence of regular witnesses. The camp administration has never
intervened to put a stop to this loathsomeness.

The influence the female criminals have on educated women, "K.R."
prisoners, can be imagined. The foulest cursing, in which the names of
God, Christ, the Virgin and all the saints are called upon, universal
drunkenness, indescribable debauchery, thieving, filth, syphilis — all
this must in the long run be too much for the most stubborn nature.

To send an honest woman to the Solovky is to turn her in a few months
into something worse than a prostitute — a piece of dumb, dirty flesh,
an object of barter, at the disposal first and foremost of the camp
_personnel_ itself.

Every Tchekist in the Solovky has from three to five concubines at the
same time. Toropoff, who was appointed assistant to the Kem commandant
on the administrative side in 1924, established a regular harem in the
camp, continually replenished according to his choice and at his orders.
The Red soldiers who guard the camp violate women unpunished.

According to the camp rules, twenty-five women — "K.R.'s" and _shpana_ —
are selected every day to act as servants to the Red divisions guarding
the Solovky. The soldiers are so lazy that the prisoners even make their

The headman of the Kem camp, Tchistakoff, not only has his dinner cooked
and his boots cleaned by women, but they even have to _wash_ him!

The youngest and prettiest women are usually chosen, and the Tchekists
are free to treat them as they please.

All the women in the Solovky are _officially_ divided into three
categories: (1) a rouble woman (_rublevaya_), (2) a half-rouble woman
(_poltinitchnaya_), and (3) a fifteen kopek woman (_piatialtynnaya_).

If one of the camp authorities requires a "first-class" woman, i.e., a
young "K.R." who has not been long in the camp, he says to the sentry:
"Bring me a rouble woman."

Honest women who refuse the "improved ration" which the Tchekists give
their concubines very soon die of under-nourishment or tuberculosis.
Such cases are particularly frequent on Solovetsky Island, where the
bread usually does not last through the winter — i.e., till navigation
begins and fresh supplies can be brought — and the already miserable
rations are cut down by a half.

The Tchekists and the _shpana_ infect the women with syphilis and other
venereal diseases. How widespread these diseases are in the Solovky may
be judged from this fact. Until recently the syphilitics, both male and
female, were quartered on Popoff Island, in a special hut (No. 8). But
their number increased to such an extent in the few months before I
escaped that hut No. 8 would not hold them all, and the administration
could think of no better solution of the problem than to put the
patients in other huts, occupied by uninfected persons. Of course, this
only led to a still more rapid increase in the number of cases.

If their solicitations meet with resistance, the Tchekists do not shrink
from heaping insult on their victims. I will mention two out of a number
of such cases known to me.

At the end of 1924 a very pretty Polish girl of seventeen was brought to
the Solovky. She had been sentenced to be shot, along with her father
and mother, for "espionage in the interests of Poland." The parents were
shot, but as the girl was under age, the supreme penalty was in her case
commuted to transportation to the Solovky for ten years.

The girl had the misfortune to attract Toropoff, but had the pluck to
refuse his disgusting proposals. Thereupon Toropoff ordered her to be
brought to the commandant's office, accused her of concealing
"counter-revolutionary" documents on her person, stripped her naked and
searched her under the eyes of the whole camp guard — examining with
care those parts of her body where it seemed to him that the "documents"
might best be concealed.

One day in February, 1925, a Tchekist named Popoff appeared in the
women's hut very drunk, accompanied by a number of other Tchekists, also
drunk. He went up to Madame X's bed. This lady belonged to the highest
social circles and had been sent to the Solovky for ten years after her
husband had been shot. Popoff dragged her out of bed and said:

"Won't you come outside the wire with us?" (It was there that women were

Madame X was in a state of raving hysteria till the next morning.

Uneducated and half-educated "K.R." women are exploited by the Tchekists
without scruple. Particularly lamentable is the fate of the many Cossack
women, whose husbands, fathers and brothers have been shot and they
themselves transported.



_Espionage for Mexico! — A Cryptic Message — Gpu Tactics — Attempts to
Escape Savagely Punished._

Most of the foreigners in the Solovky were sent there on the charge of
"espionage for the benefit of the international _bourgeoisie_" (Clause
66). Sometimes a second clause is brought into action as well as Clause
66, quite groundlessly; the Tchekist "jurisprudence" is most skilful in
discovering a crime where there is not the shadow of one.

Among the prisoners in the Solovky are Count Villa, Mexican
Consul-General in Egypt, and his wife. It must have been, one would
think, rather difficult for a man living in Cairo to direct "Mexican
espionage" in Soviet Russia, especially in view of the fact that the
Consul-General does not speak or understand a single word of Russian.
The circumstances of his arrest were as follows.

Count Villa's wife is a Georgian lady, _née_ Princess Karalova. In 1924
she and her husband came to the Caucasus to visit her mother, with the
permission of the Soviet Government and with their passports in order.
Unluckily, just at that time the Georgian rebellion broke out. The
Bolsheviks shot the Countess's brother, Prince Karaloff, and sent the
diplomatist and his wife to the Solovky for three years for "espionage
for the benefit of Mexico." They arrived there in February, 1925.

The Consul-General is living in the Solovky by virtue of a diplomatic
passport guaranteeing him _personal immunity!_ On his arrival in the
camp he tried to send to Mexico a full account of the outrage committed
on him by the Soviet authorities, but the Solovetsky censorship
destroyed it. Then the Count had recourse to the language of Æsop and
sent his Government a telegram which began with the words:

"I am making a very interesting tour in the north of Russia."

Evidently the fact of the Mexican diplomatist's transportation to the
Solovky is known abroad, for not long before I escaped some things were
sent to him from London by aeroplane (he had been robbed by the
Tchekists when he was arrested). He carries on an active correspondence
with Tchitcherin in French, demanding his release. But Mexico is a long
way off; she has no merchant fleet or money to lend the Soviets; and so
the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, in its polite replies to its
colleague's letters, passes over in silence the question of his
liberation. The only result of Tchitcherin's letters was that the
Consul-General was exempted from work in the camp. But Countess Villa,
like all women "K.R.'s," scrubs hut floors and washes Tchekists' shirts.

Representatives of every nation, great as well as small, may be met with
in the Solovky — Englishmen, Italians, Japanese, Frenchmen and Germans,
besides natives of lesser States. The reasons for their transportation
are as a rule shamelessly inadequate. Is seems as if the Gpu were
deliberately frightening foreigners away, so that they shall not visit
Russia, become acquainted with the country or open commercial or any
other kind of relations with it. I referred in an earlier chapter to the
case of the Hungarian manufacturer Frenckell, whom the Vneshtorg
(Foreign Trade Office) invited to Russia and then sent to the Solovky.
There have been many cases of the kind. For example, an Estonian named
Motise went to Moscow to see the All-Russian Exhibition, and was sent
straight from the Exhibition to the Solovky!

At a time when there was a Government crisis in Lithuania, and the
struggle between the political parties had reached an abnormal degree of
bitterness, a member of the defeated party fled from the country into
Soviet Russia. He was an engineer officer in the Lithuanian army. He was
completely strange to Soviet Russia and to the Communists, and believed
that he would find in the neighbouring country asylum as a political
refugee. But directly he crossed the frontier he was arrested, accused,
despite his protests, of "organising a counter-revolutionary plot and
espionage in the interests of Lithuania," and sent to the Solovky!

In the monastery and on Popoff Island there are a large number of
persons formerly attached to the diplomatic missions of foreign States.
They are mostly Poles, Estonians, Finlanders, Latvians and Lithuanians,
employees of the Legations, Consulates and missions of their respective
countries, who have been arrested on the charge of "espionage" and, more
rarely, "speculation."

All the foreigners live in the constant hope that their Governments will
exchange them for Communists. The administration treats them cruelly.
They get the same rations as the "K.R.'s," and the work they are given
is for the most part severe.

There have lately been several attempts to escape. The would-be
fugitives have mostly been Estonians, Latvians, Finlanders and Poles.
Nogteff has, therefore, given orders that prisoners of those
nationalities shall not be taken to work outside the camps.

Attempts to escape — always unsuccessful — are punished first by cruel
torture and then by shooting (although, according to the regulations,
the maximum punishment is the prolongation of the prisoner's term of
imprisonment by one year).

In March, 1925, a Finlander attempted to escape from the Solovetsky
Monastery. He had gone to the latrine, accompanied by a sentry, climbed
over the wall and found himself on the seashore. In these latitudes
spring generally comes late, and the ice by the Kremlin was still thick
enough to bear. The Finlander fled as fast as he could towards the
woods, a little way along the coast. He was observed; the alarm was
given and shots were fired after him. Just as he had reached the woods,
where he could have hidden until he could continue his flight with
better prospects of escaping recapture, he came unexpectedly to a break
in the ice, and halted in indecision. The Tchekists caught him.

The Finlander was brought back to the camp. He was beaten for _nearly an
hour_ with such violence that the thick "Smolensky sticks" were broken.
Then, all dripping with blood, he was shot.



_Kem Camp's New Rulers — A Military Parade — A Much-Married Tchekist —
Old Abuses Continued._

In the spring of 1924 the _personnel_ of the concentration camp on
Popoff Island was changed. The members of the Uslon (Direction of the
Northern Camps for Special Purposes) and, at the monastery itself, all
the Tchekists remained at their posts. This was what the prisoners
called the "change of cabinet."

A Moscow Tchekist, Ivan Ivanovitch Kirilovsky, formerly a sergeant in
one of the Guards regiments, was appointed commandant of the Kem camp in
place of Gladkoff. As stated in an earlier chapter, he refused to take
over until a commission was appointed by the central Government to
examine the camp accounts. When the commission discovered that gross
extravagance and fraud had taken place, Gladkoff was sentenced to
transportation for five years for "peculation and a negligent attitude
towards his exalted (?) duties." Mamonoff, who was directly responsible
for the frauds, was not punished at all; and, for that matter, Gladkoff
himself was pardoned two days after his sentence and given a new
appointment in the Gpu at Kaluga.

Before Kirilovsky's arrival it was said in the camps that he was a
decent fellow. We were soon to have ocular demonstration of his
"decency." Kirilovsky is still in command of the camp, with the same

His arrival was the occasion for an elaborate ceremony. Eichmans,
already familiar to the reader, whose dream was to turn the camps into
military colonies of the Araktcheeff[32] epoch, paraded the starving
prisoners, including women and children, several days in succession, and
made them execute movements, obey words of command, and so on, in
military style. When Kirilovsky approached the camp, we were drawn up in
two ranks.

"Attention! . . . Right dress!"

The headman went up to Kirilovsky with his report.

"All correct in the labour regiment under my command."

The commanders of all the labour companies did the same. Then Kirilovsky
greeted us:

"Good day!"

"Good —— day!"

This cruel farce went on for nearly an hour. At last Kirilovsky asked
whether anyone had any request to make, or any complaint against the
administration. His question, of course, remained unanswered. If anyone
had had the audacity to make a complaint, he would have been taken to
the "Sekirka" (the place of punishment) that very day and been flogged
to death with "Smolensky sticks."

Kirilovsky's assistant on the administrative side was, as I have
mentioned, Toropoff, a typical vagabond, with goggling sheep's eyes. He
was formerly a platoon commander in the 95th Division of Gpu troops,
which does guard duties on Popoff Island. Apart from his devastating
stupidity, his principal characteristic is that he gets married
everywhere he goes. On Popoff Island he was not content with a harem of
women prisoners, and got married — for the sixth time — to a
"cod-eater." ("Cod-eaters" is the name given by the prisoners to the
inhabitants of the fishing settlements round the camps, whose main
article of food is cod.)

Kirilovsky's assistant on the economic side was one Nikolai Nikolaevitch
Popoff. He was always extremely well dressed, was not a Tchekist and not
even a Communist. He was a most enigmatic personality. Sometimes he said
he had been an officer in the Guards, sometimes an official with special
duties in one of the Tsarist Ministries, sometimes Trotsky's adjutant.
He was, in any case, a man of very good education and outward polish. He
had an impediment in his speech, and was malignant and cruel in his
dealings with "K.R.'s." When the prisoners passed him on their way to
work, Popoff used to say to his suite of Tchekists — in a loud voice, so
that the "K.R.'s" might hear:

"There's a pack of criminals — do you hear? — criminals! They're our
enemies. We'll put the wind up the whole crowd of them!"

The "change of cabinet" made little difference to the situation of the
prisoners. The only modification was that "putting the wind up" them,
and the thieving of State funds and their modest rations by the
administration, became more constant than before. Gladkoff stole openly,
Kirilovsky under a camouflage of "honesty."

The Solovetsky life and regime in general — the heavy toll of labour,
the reprisals, the self-indulgent manner of living of the _personnel_ —
remained as they had been.

[Footnote 32: Count Araktcheeff (1769-1834), the great Roman military
organiser. The military colonies scheme, which he endeavoured
(unsuccessfully) to carry out, was one of the many projects of the
Emperor Alexander I.]



_"A Place in the Lamp-light" — "Outside" and "Inside" Work — No
Exemption for Illness — Horrors of Wood-cutting — How We were Fed —
Prisoners Starved and Government Cheated._

The huts in Popoff Island camp are about forty yards long and ten yards
in breadth. The politicals' hut is twice as large as the others. From
two hundred to three hundred persons are as a rule quartered in each
hut; in Nos. 5 and 6, occupied mainly by _shpana_, there are over seven
hundred persons.

One cannot breathe as night approaches; the stench is awful. In the
evening, when the prisoners return from work, the huts, full of cracks,
holes in the roofs, and draughts from all quarters, are so cold that the
inmates shiver like men with fever. It is impossible to sleep at night
for the stuffiness and human exhalations. We used to strip naked and
pile all our clothes on top of us.

The board-beds are arranged along the walls in two tiers. Everyone tries
to get an "upper berth," for if you lie below a continual shower of
lice, remains of food and spittle descends on you. Sanguinary fights
take place for beds in the upper tier.

The electric power station was not constructed till the end of 1924.
Until then an apology for a lamp — a tin containing a wick slightly
damped with paraffin — flickered in the middle of each hut. This gave
light to the three or four beds nearest to it; all the rest of the hut
was in darkness. Now every hut is lighted with a small electric light
globe (16 watts), but this is quite inadequate for such large huts.
There is always a crowd under the one tiny lamp, trying to read, or
write to their relations. The absence of light is particularly trying in
winter. The headmen of the huts profit by the situation to take bribes,
either in money or in kind, for "a place in the lamp-light"!

"Nep" — the New Economic Policy — affected even the Solovky. They were
placed on a "self-supporting" basis, and the sum granted annually by the
central Government for the upkeep of the camps was considerably reduced.
Thus in the present year (1925) the Solovky received only 250,000 gold
roubles as against two millions demanded by Boky and Nogteff.

There is no need to feed the prisoners, even on a semi-starvation diet.
But it is quite indispensable that the administration should pocket
large sums of money. Therefore the Natchuslon and his minions have
crushed the last drops of energy out of the prisoners and turned them
all into dumb slaves.

Work in the Solovky is divided into two categories — "outside" (outside
the wire fence) and "inside" (inside the camp). For outside work the
prisoners are generally taken from Solovetsky and Popoff Islands to the
mainland. Among the tasks which come under the head of outside work are:
fetching wood, draining the marshes, laying, clearing and keeping in
order railway lines and roads (earth and wooden), cutting timber for the
necessities of the camp and for export, and loading and unloading
timber, stones and supplies. The names of the vessels used for
transporting cargo are the steamers _Gleb Boky_ and _Neva_ and the barge
_Klara_, so named in honour of the German woman Communist Clara Zetkin.

By inside work is meant clearing away snow, helping in the kitchen and
workshops, removing refuse from the latrines and the huts occupied by
ordinary criminals, and performing services for the Tchekists. The women
scrub the floors of the huts and offices, cook food, do the Tchekists'
and Red soldiers' washing, sewing, etc.

Work begins at 6 a.m. both summer and winter. According to the
regulations work stops at 7 p.m., but in the Solovky there is a twelve
hours' working day, with an interval for dinner at 1 p.m. Actually work
goes on much longer than this, at the discretion of the supervising
Tchekist. This is particularly the case in summer, when the prisoners
literally have to work to fainting point; in that season work often goes
on from 6 a.m. to 12 or 1 the following night.

There is _no Sunday in the Solovky_, nor is there any other day of rest
in the week. Every day is a working day. On the great festivals, Easter,
Christmas, etc., the hours of work are usually lengthened in order to
insult the feelings of the religious prisoners.[33] Only _one_ day in
the year is set apart as a festival . . . the First of May.

Illness, physical weakness, old age and extreme youth are not taken into
account in the slightest degree. A refusal to work on the ground of
illness, even when the illness is obvious to the Tchekists themselves,
involves, for a first offence, removal to the "Sekirka" (the place of
punishment), and, for a second offence, shooting, although, according to
law, the punishment for refusal to work — and even then only without
adequate cause — is the extension of the term of imprisonment by one

The most exhausting labour is fetching wood in winter. This work is
absolutely insupportable. You stand up to your knees in snow, so that it
is difficult to move. Huge tree-trunks, cut away with axes, fall on the
prisoners, sometimes killing them on the spot. Clad in rags, with no
mittens, with only bast shoes on your feet, hardly able to stand for
weakness caused by under-nourishment, your hands and whole body are
frozen stiff in the bitter cold.

The minimum daily task is as follows: four men have to cut, split and
pile four cubic sajenes (a sajene is about two yards), and till they
have done this they are not allowed to return to the camp. An extra
hardship attached to all outside work is that if the prisoners do not
get through their minimum task up to time and return to camp punctually,
the _shpana_ take the kitchen by storm, and they get no dinner.

Once I was sent to the shore near Kem to cut wood with a party of other
"K.R.'s." The wood was urgently needed, and we were chased out of our
huts at 5 a.m. As a rule sentries are changed at 12 p.m. But this time,
for some reason or other, no relief for our escort was sent to the wood
where we were at work. The Red soldiers, not remarkable for discipline,
took us back to the camp, demanding to be relieved. Toropoff cursed them
and called up a fresh escort of Tchekists. Then we were driven straight
back to our work in the same wood without any interval for dinner, and
did not return till 4 a.m. In other words, we worked for nineteen hours
in severe cold without food, and without interruption save for our two
extra marches to and from the camp!

Everything in the Solovky that could be plundered was plundered long
ago, and everything that could be sold was sold. To obtain new
resources, the authorities made various big labour contracts in the
territory of the "autonomous" Karelian Republic — for example, for the
construction of a road from Kem to Ukhta. But seeing that unemployment
menaces Karelia itself, the Karelian Vtsik continually complained to
Moscow that the Slon was taking the bread out of the mouths of the
Karelians. The agreements were cancelled, but the Solovetsky
administration profited by them nevertheless. This is what happened.
Nogteff submitted to Moscow more or less fantastic schemes for labour
undertakings on Karelian territory, and asked the Gpu for a money
subsidy and spirits, the latter for the workmen, toiling chin-deep in
the marshes! The money and spirits, when they arrived, were divided
among the Tchekists, those most intimate with Nogteff receiving the
larger share.

As constructional and commercial schemes did not yield a large enough
profit, the Solovetsky authorities saw the only way out in a reduction
of the rations. This they proceeded to carry out.

Every prisoner, however hard the labour he was engaged on, was
henceforward given 1 lb. of black bread daily. The bread is issued for
ten days ahead, so that at the end of this time it is as hard as a
stone. The bread is badly baked; the flour is stale and has a bitter

Hot food is issued twice a day. Dinner is a plate of soup, made of
mouldy codfish — evil-smelling water, without groats or butter; supper a
tureen of millet or buckwheat gruel, again without butter. The "K.R.'s"
often get no supper, because the _shpana_ prisoners, who have lost their
own portion at cards, go and rob the kitchen.

In the camp accounts every prisoner is entered as receiving 3 zolotniks
of sugar a day, or (as this also is issued for ten days in advance) 30
zolotniks per issue. (A zolotnik is 1/96 of a Russian lb.) What each
prisoner actually gets every ten days is a half-glass of half-frozen
liquefied sugar containing 10 or 12 zolotniks. The Tchekists mix the
sugar with water and thus steal 18 to 20 zolotniks on each ration,
which, in a camp containing several thousand prisoners, means a profit
of two or three score poods every day of issue.

It is also stated in the accounts that the prisoners receive one-eighth
of a lb. of butter and one-eighth of a lb. of tobacco. In reality no
butter or tobacco at all are issued in the camps. Casks of butter and
hundreds of poods of tobacco are sold at Kem by the authorities, who
pocket the money.

Lastly, according to the regulations, every prisoner engaged in hard
bodily labour is supposed to receive, besides his food ration, 35 kopeks
a day pocket money. The money for this purpose is sent by the central
Government and is additional to the ordinary budget. No prisoner has
ever received these 35 kopeks. Every penny of this "bonus" goes into the
pockets of the Tchekists.

It is possible that before the "change of cabinet" the feeding in the
Solovky was better than it is now. Then the prisoners got preserves,
large quantities of which — enough for two years — were left behind by
the British. The present ration amounts to nothing else than the murder
of the prisoners by a slow death from starvation. I calculate, on the
basis of the requirements of a man engaged in hard bodily labour, that
this ration, issued for ten days, is barely sufficient for two or three

As I mentioned earlier in my narrative, the politicals receive the
"improved ration," which is almost sufficient.

The Red soldiers get the "northern ration," with plenty of butter, fats,
white bread, and even spirits.

[Footnote 33: cf. p. 99.]



_Hospitals Without Drugs — "Prisoners Must Not be Ill" — A Madwoman in
Command — Mortality among Prisoners Encouraged — A Kindly Tchekist._

The "Medpomoshtsh"[34] (medical help) in the Solovetsky Islands is in
fact medical helplessness. Owing partly to lack of resources, partly to
the ill-will of the administration of the camps and the secret
instructions of the Moscow Gpu, there is in the Solovky only one really
effective cure for illness — death.

The sanitary conditions in the camps are horrible. Not only are huts,
kitchens, latrines, etc., in an incredible state of filth, but the
Solovetsky "hospitals" themselves can truthfully be called
breeding-places for epidemics. The damp, marshy locality, the bad water,
and the millions of mosquitoes and lice all render powerful assistance
in creating and spreading disease.

The prisoners have no change of linen, no soap, no proper clothes or
boots. Their organisms, debilitated by permanent under-nourishment and
hard work, are not in a state to resist disease.

There is a "hospital" in the Kremlin of the Solovetsky Monastery. The
word should be placed within quotation marks, because this hospital has
no drugs of any kind, the beds are indescribably dirty, the patients are
given the ordinary starvation ration, and the place is very often

The doctor in charge of it, himself a prisoner, has repeatedly attempted
to persuade the Natchuslon that in the absence of drugs, bed linen (the
patients lie on bare boards), soap, eatable food, and a latrine in the
hospital itself (the patients have to go out in the yard in all
temperatures, even in winter), the "treatment" of the prisoners is
nothing else than deliberate murder. But the Solovetsky administration
has always refused his demands. Fresh thousands arrive in the Solovky
every year, and the huts must be cleared of "superfluous elements." Once
Nogteff actually said:

"Prisoners have no business to be ill!"

The "hospital" on Popoff Island may serve as another fairly good
specimen of Solovetsky "medical help." A woman is in charge of it, by
name Lvova (Maria Nikolaevna). She is a highly-trained doctor. Before
she was sent into exile she was in the Red Cross, and served on
literally every front in the Great War and the civil war. Subsequently
she was a "seksotka" (secret woman agent for the Gpu) but was
ascertained to have "talked indiscreetly about secret Gpu affairs," and
was sent to the Solovky for five years.

This woman, perhaps not bad in the depths of her heart, has been
shattered by her work for the Gpu and the life in the Solovky. She has
lost all self-control. No one in the Solovky, even the most disreputable
common criminals, curses with such complete mastery of the art, applies
such foul terms of abuse to men and God Himself, as the directress of
the hospital. Criminals often go to the hospital just to listen to
Lvova's swearing and introduce her latest gems of obscenity into their
own talk.

No one in the Solovky drinks so much, or drinks him- or herself into
such a swinish condition, as Maria Nikolaevna. She has reached the
lowest pitch of moral disintegration. And her care of the sick is what
might be expected of a person in such a state. Human life, for her, has
ceased to have the slightest value. The hospitals of the Solovetsky
Islands are in themselves almost a guarantee that the patients who enter
them will die _en masse_. Lvova accelerates the patient's death by her
roughness, her complete indifference to their sufferings, the cruelty of
a person on the verge of insanity. When patients complain of the
horrible state of things in her hospital, she always replies:

"The worse the better; all the more of you'll kick the bucket" —
followed by a quite unprintable oath.

But I will not raise my hand to throw a stone at this woman; from living
in insane conditions she herself has become insane. But have Nogteff and
the other "administrators" of the Solovetsky Islands neither eyes nor
ears? Why have they put a madwoman at the head of the medical service on
Popoff Island?

I gave the answer to this question at the beginning of the chapter. The
central authorities of the Gpu, and under them the Solovetsky Tchekists,
are deliberately increasing the mortality in the Solovky. A further
proof of this is in the fact that prisoners are not allowed to send for
a doctor from Kem _even at their own expense_. The Kem doctor attends
only the Solovetsky Tchekists.

The "K.R.'s" and politicals fear the Solovetsky hospitals like the
plague. If prisoners of these categories fall ill, and cannot cure
themselves by "home remedies," they die in the huts, begging not to be
taken to hospital. Only the _shpana_, who, like Lvova, set no value
either on their own lives or other people's, go to hospital of their own
accord. In consequence, the ordinary criminals die in dozens daily,
mainly of scurvy.

The water of the Solovetsky Islands has in it some quality which ruins
the teeth, and the consequent toothache is intensified by cold and the
draughts in the huts. A dentist is urgently needed in the camps. It is
true that there is a dentist in the Kremlin of the Solovetsky Monastery
— Malivanoff, known to the reader as an A.R.A. worker, punished by the
Bolsheviks in return for his services — but he has no drugs or

On Popoff Island this question is decided in a radical manner. There is
a man named Brusilovsky in the camp. Before the Revolution he was a
_feldsher_, or local surgeon; after the Revolution — a Tchekist
belonging to the Gpu of Elisavetgrad, in what is now the Government of
Odessa, formerly the Government of Kherson. He was sent to the Solovky
under Clause 76 of the Criminal Code — "armed banditism." Despite his
profession of Tchekist, Brusilovsky is a very nice, sympathetic fellow.
He decided to do what he could for the victims of toothache, and somehow
got hold of an ordinary blacksmith's pincers, with which he pulls out

Of course, nothing can be done to cure the teeth while they are
decaying, for there is nothing to do it with, neither drugs nor
instruments; all that can be done is to pull them out, to which the
sufferers always readily consent. Brusilovsky never takes any money for
his services. He has a huge practice, especially among the _shpana_,
whose teeth he pulls out rows at a time. The first time he pulled out
quite sound teeth too, for practice.

This compassionate Tchekist treats syphilis too. His method of dealing
with this complaint is also the last word in Solovetsky science. A
compound of infusions of herbs, spirit and something else is injected
with an ordinary syringe. He evidently still needs practice in this
branch, for syphilis is on the increase in the camps, and the mortality
from it is growing steadily.

[Footnote 34: _Meditsinskaya pomoshtsh_.]



_Chief Punishments — A Freezing Dungeon — "To the Mosquitoes!" — A
Mediæval Torture — Mass Shootings No Longer Necessary._

The leaders of the Communist Party declare that the Northern Camps for
Special Purposes are something in the nature of a reformatory. The
punishments administered in these establishments, they would have the
world believe, are intended to make the prisoners mend their ways and
become useful citizens of the Soviet Republic.

In reality, the camp punishments, like the camp medical arrangements,
are based upon no other calculation than that of sending the largest
possible number of prisoners, more or less swiftly, to "the other side."

Refusal to work, insubordination towards the authorities,
"counter-revolutionary propaganda," insulting words or behaviour to the
_personnel_, the discovery of a "criminal past" (this is Vasko's
occupation), attempted escape — for these offences there are a number of
punishments, in accordance with the heinousness of the offence. I will
mention the chief punishments:

  (1) The "Sekirka."
  (2) "To the Mosquitoes!"
  (3) Prolongation of the term of imprisonment.
  (4) "Stone sacks."
  (5) Shooting.

Such corrective measures as blows in the face, the confiscation of
parcels from relations for an indefinite time (for the benefit of the
confiscator!), flogging with the whip or only "Smolensky sticks" without
"stone sacks," etc., are so common in the Solovky that there is no need
to dwell on them.

The "Sekirka" is a prison on the notorious Sekirova hill, on Solovetsky
Island, two miles from the Kremlin. In bygone days it was the cave of
one of the most honoured of the legendary heroes of the Solovetsky
Islands. The "guilty" prisoner is sent to the Sekirka for a term of from
two to six months. The regime there is as follows. The prisoner receives
daily half a pound of bread, a jug of cold water, and nothing else. All
the doors and windows of the cave are fastened. He has no communication
at all with the outside world. The dungeon is absolutely unheated. As a
rule, when the term of his punishment comes to an end, there is nothing
left of the prisoner but a frozen corpse. In rare cases a half-dead
skeleton emerges from the Sekirka.

"To the Mosquitoes!" is a form of punishment very popular with the
Solovetsky Tchekists. The manner of its infliction is as follows. The
prisoner is stripped naked and made to stand on a particular stone
opposite the commandant's office. He is ordered, with threats of "stone
sacks" and shooting, to stand absolutely still, not to move a finger and
not to drive away the mosquitoes, which cover the poor wretch's body as
with a thick black crust. The torture is continued for several hours.
When the punishment is over, the victim's body is one huge sore from the
bites of the poisonous insects. The weaker prisoners die, and the
stronger cannot sit or lie down for many weeks after the punishment.

Prolongation of the term of imprisonment is a punishment now
comparatively seldom applied, for the simple reason that the orders
recently circulated by the Gpu have made every prisoner _a convict for
an indefinite term_. When he has served his two, three, five or ten
years, he is sent on from the Solovky to the Petchersk region, then to
the Narym, then to the Zyriansk, and so on, unendingly. For more serious
"offences," therefore, the Tchekists send the prisoners to the "sacks."

In the old times, every monk in the Kremlin, and every holy man in the
caves, had a small cellar cut in the rock near his cell, in which he
kept his food supplies. These cellars, three or four feet in depth, have
no doors, and the food was placed in them from above through small

These are the famous "stone sacks." The Tchekists take the prisoner to
the "sack," and ask him:

"How'll you get in — head first or feet first?"

If the prisoner gets into the "sack" head first, he is beaten with
"Smolensky sticks" on the back and legs; if he gets in feet first, he is
beaten about the head and face. The beating goes on till his whole body
is inside the "sack." The "sack" is too narrow for him to sit, and too
low for him to stand up straight, so that he is obliged to stand with
his knees bent and his head poked forward. He is imprisoned in the
"sack" for a period varying between three days and a week. The rations
are the same as at the Sekirka. Few people can endure this mediæval

There are no mass shootings at the Solovky like those carried out at the
"White House," but individual shootings are very frequent, and are
regarded as an ordinary occurrence. A larger or smaller number of
prisoners are shot whenever the Soviet Government retaliates for
measures of suppression against Communists in foreign States by a
terrorist outburst on its own part. Thus, over a hundred persons, both
Russians and foreigners, were shot after the suppression of the
Communist revolt of December 1st, 1924, by the Estonian Government, and
a rather smaller number after the suppression of the rebellion in

I gathered from the candid statements of the Tchekists that the Gpu has
now no need to make a regular practice of mass shootings, because more
humane measures — slow murder from starvation, work beyond the
prisoners' strength, and "medical help" — are perfectly adequate

It would be a mistake to suppose that one must commit some kind of
offence to be sent to the Sekirka, the "sacks" and the mosquitoes, or to
be shot. The prisoners are handed over by the central authorities to the
unchecked caprice of the camp administration. If the Tchekists dislike
your face, if you are seen crossing yourself on the sly, if you have
said anything about your hard lot in your letters to your relations —
the Sekirka and the "sacks" open their dreadful doors to you.



_Luxurious Proletarians — Merry Gatherings at Kem — A Revolting Orgy —
"Holding the Banner of Communism Aloft" — How Criminals are Released._

The concentration camp on Solovetsky Island is guarded by the 3rd Escort
Regiment of the Gpu troops (300 rifles strong), and that on Popoff
Island by the 95th Division of the Gpu troops (150 strong). In spite of
the good food they receive, scurvy rages among the Red soldiers, as does
also syphilis. The soldiers, with the exception of those on duty
guarding the camps, live in private quarters.

The Solovky guards, drawn from the criminal _canaille_ which, after the
October Revolution, suddenly discovered its "class consciousness" and
joined the Communist Party in tens of thousands, spend all their time in
card-playing, debauchery, swilling home-distilled spirits and drunken

In this they follow the example of the higher officials. The life led by
the Solovky authorities is far from proletarian. Nogteff, Eichmans,
Vasko, Kirilovsky, Popoff and the rest deny themselves nothing. Having
earned piles of money at the expense of the prisoners, the
"administrators" lead a thoroughly non-Communistic life. Liquor,
clothes, and other things are always arriving for them in truck-loads
from Moscow, Petrograd and Kem. I myself took part in the unloading of
two of these trucks. They contained different kinds of vodka, Russian
and foreign wines, including champagne, liqueurs, all kinds of _hors
d'œuvres_, expensive clothes, both men's and women's — the latter for
the harems — comfortable furniture, and so on.

The "administrators" are notorious for their orgies not only in the
Solovky, but much further afield — all over Northern Russia. The scene
of the debauches is usually Kem, where the Tchekists from the monastery
and from Popoff Island assemble to make merry.

On Popoff Island itself they take place in the quarters of Kirilovsky,
the commandant of the "Kemperraspredpunkt," who not long ago had the
reputation of being a decently conducted man. They nearly always end in

For example, in August, 1924, a drinking-bout of the usual kind was held
in Kirilovsky's quarters. Guests and host drank so heavily that
Kirilovsky felt ill, and they took him out into the fresh air. When he
returned to the house, the guests, as drunk as pigs, were vomiting over
the table, and his wife was lying on a sofa in Popoff's arms in a
shameless posture.

Infuriated, Kirilovsky dragged Popoff from the sofa and flung him away
so violently that his head went through the door. Popoff, however,
managed to give him a blow in the face, smashing his glasses. Shots were
fired. Popoff was dragged out of Kirilovsky's quarters and taken home,
where he broke all the windows with his fists and, shedding bitter
tears, began to bellow so that all the camp could hear him:

"They've killed me! They've killed me!"

It would appear that such a manner of life is ideal Communism, for in
November, 1924, at the time of the anniversary of the October
Revolution, the Natchuslon received a letter of thanks from the Moscow
Gpu, in which the latter expressed its gratitude to Nogteff and his
colleagues for "holding the banner of Communism aloft."

In the time which their alcoholic occupations leave at their disposal,
the "administrators" of the Solovetsky Islands amuse themselves by
amnestying prisoners of the _shpana_ category. Every day, after
navigation has begun, some five hundred prisoners are released.

The procedure is as follows. The ordinary criminals, male and female,
are stripped of their last rags ("State clothing"), are given railway
tickets to the towns where they live, and a supply of bread in
accordance with the length of their journey. Then they are put into
freight trucks _stark naked_, and sent off to Kem station! Naturally
half the _shpana_ rob somebody to get clothes directly they arrive at
Kem station, and return to the camp to undergo an extra year's
imprisonment. The rest go away naked.

None of the "K.R.'s" are ever liberated. From time to time it is
rumoured that the politicals are to be released or transferred to a
prison on the mainland of Russia. These rumours usually remain rumours;
if politicals leave the Solovky it is only for another place of exile.





_Bolshevist Hypocrisy — Prisoners for Life — The Student Nikolaeff's
Escape — Failure of other Attempts._

The foreign workmen who come to Moscow in batches are given to
understand by the Soviet Government that it, of course, is against the
Solovky; it is willing to admit that the Solovky are a discredit to the
"humane" rule of the workers and peasants. But, it asks, what is to be
done? —— the counter-revolutionaries continue their struggle with the
Soviet power, and so the Gpu insists on the maintenance of the
concentration camps. The Gpu, for its part, puts the blame on the
Council of People's Commissaries.

And while they are saying this, the Council of People's Commissaries and
the Gpu are fettering their prisoners to the Solovky and its
"continuations" _for their whole lives_ — by sending them on to other
more or less remote places. Since the autumn of 1924, by a special order
of the Gpu — submitted to and confirmed by the Vtsik — every prisoner
who has served his term in the Solovky is sent for three years to a
"free settlement" in the Narym region, then to the Petchersk region for
three years more, then to the Turukhansk and Zyriansk regions — that is
to say, for twelve years in all. For those who somehow or other contrive
not to die during these twelve years, a final reward is reserved — exile
to a permanent settlement in Eastern Siberia.

Thus, whatever "offence" you have been found guilty of, however you have
conducted yourself in the Solovky, you will _never_ be released. Every
person transported by the Soviet Government is doomed to die on his
journeyings from prison to prison, from one place of forced exile to

The terrible knowledge that one is a convict for life, that, after the
Solovky, one will be driven off to new torments, be given a new Nogteff,
a new Kirilovsky, a new ration, be compelled to do more hard labour, get
into other "sacks," rot in another Sekirka, makes the prisoner realise
that this endless, hopeless pilgrimage of pain must be cut short once
and for all — by escape.

But a successful escape from the Solovky is a miracle, a fabulous piece
of good fortune, granted to a few out of scores of thousands.

During the time that I spent in the Solovky I heard of only one case in
which a prisoner had escaped from the Solovky — and he did not escape
abroad, but into the interior of Russia. He was a medical student named
Nikolaeff — a "K.R." He succeeded by some means or other in getting
himself employed as a clerk in the camp commandant's office, and winning
the confidence of the Tchekists by pretended hatred of "K.R.'s." He came
to manage the whole business of the camp, had all the forms and papers
at his disposal, and occasionally even went to Kem — without a guard! —
on business connected with the commandant's office. He forged all the
necessary documents for himself — in an assumed name: a railway pass,
even a certificate of membership of the Communist Party. Then he went to
Kem, allegedly on business — and never came back. Many weeks later we
got a letter saying that Nikolaeff was in Moscow, sent us his kind
remembrances, and wished us a speedy departure southward.

Every other attempt to escape had invariably ended in the fugitives
being captured and put to a torturing death. It was so with the
Finlander who tried to escape in March, 1925, and with Captain
Skhyrtladze's party. Six "K.R.'s," headed by Captain Skhyrtladze,
escaped from the Solovetsky Monastery in a boat which they had got hold
of after killing a sentry. For five days they were tossed about in a
rough sea, trying to make the shore near Kem. They had no food, their
strength gave out, and several times the idea of committing suicide by
upsetting the boat presented itself to them. At last one of the unhappy
Columbuses cried "Land!" They came to the shore and landed at night.
They were so weak and exhausted that, having lit a fire in the woods,
they forgot everything else and fell down beside it half dead. A patrol
from the Solovky found them there. The Tchekists flung bombs at the
fire. Four of the fugitives were killed on the spot; the two others, one
of whom was Captain Skhyrtladze, were recaptured. Skhyrtladze had one
hand blown off and both legs broken. They were taken to hospital, given
some treatment, and then, after cruel tortures, were shot.

Only a miracle, a direct act of God, could make the impossible possible.
But we — I and my four comrades — believed in miracles, and prayed to
God for one. And He led us for thirty-five days through the marshes of
Karelia and the forests of the border region, and on the thirty-sixth
day brought us to Kuusamo, in Finland.



_Cautious Reconnaissance Work — Bezsonoff's Arrival — Our Party Made Up
— Elaborate Contrivance Necessary — A Critical Moment._

The thought of escape was always in my mind, even in the Caucasus, in
the prisons of the Extraordinary Commissions of Batoum, Tiflis,
Vladikavkaz and Grozny. On my arrival in the Solovky, I first began to
sound the possibilities in this direction. In the concentration camps of
the north, inquiries of this kind have to be made with extreme caution;
the greatest delicacy must be employed in asking questions and
reconnoitring the ground. You cannot tell which of the prisoners are
secret agents of the Gpu and which are people who feel as you yourself
do. There have been many cases in which educated prisoners, at first
sight most charming fellows, have betrayed their companions.

In the winter of 1924-25 I became intimate with the medical student
Nikolaeff. He told me that he was making preparations to escape. We did
not agree, however, as to what should be done in the next stage.
Nikolaeff insisted that we should escape into the interior of Russia,
with correct papers, which he promised to forge. As described in the
last chapter, he did this successfully on his own behalf. I, on the
contrary, was for escaping abroad, for two reasons, viz.: (1) even if we
succeeded in escaping, the Tchekists would probably find us very soon if
we stayed in Russia; (2) my destination, the Caucasus, was too distant
from the Solovky for me to be sure of getting there. So, while Nikolaeff
succeeded in making his escape to Moscow _via_ Kem and Petrograd, I
stayed in the Solovky to wait for a more favourable opportunity.

One Saturday in February, 1925, a new convoy of "K.R.'s" arrived in the
Solovky. Among the prisoners was a former captain in the Life Guards
Dragoon Regiment named Bezsonoff. He had not been two days in the camp
before he asked me:

"What do you think about escaping? I mean to clear off from here pretty

As I had every reason to believe that I was dealing with a Gpu spy, I

"I don't mean to try to escape. I'm all right here."

But soon I got to know Bezsonoff better. He had been transported to
Tobolsk for "counter-revolution" and repeated attempts to escape from
captivity. He managed to escape from Tobolsk and got to Petrograd, where
he lived in freedom for six months. Then he again fell into the hands of
the Gpu, which sentenced him to be shot, but his sentence was commuted
to five years in the Solovky, to be followed by a period of exile in the
Narym region. In the camp he bore himself with an independent air,
openly abused the Tchekists, and did not obey the orders of the

We decided to escape into Finland. Each of us sought for companions in
the adventure among our fellow-prisoners. Bezsonoff came to an
understanding with two Poles named Malbrodsky and Sazonoff. Malbrodsky
was a particularly valuable comrade because he had a compass. While in
the Tcheka prison at Minsk, he had hidden his compass in a cake of soap,
and had brought it, thus concealed, to the Solovky. Of course we had no
maps of any kind. Our marching orders were simply — westward! Here the
compass would play a decisive part.

Only prisoners engaged in outside labour had a chance of flight. Of late
I had had the duty of making out the lists of prisoners detailed for
various kinds of work outside the camp. I myself, however, was not
allowed by the Tchekists to go outside the wire fence, as they had
suspected me for a long time past of intending to make a bolt. I was
faced with the difficult task of making out a list of workers consisting
only of men useful to us, and getting my own name on to the list in

As a rule, parties from five to twelve strong are detailed for work
outside the camp. Too large a party was no use to us. It was
indispensable that a party of five should be made up consisting of the
four already mentioned — Bezsonoff, Malbrodsky, Sazonoff and myself —
and a reliable "K.R." I managed to add a Kuban Cossack to the list. He
was not warned in advance.

We had still one obstacle to overcome. Each party was, as a rule,
composed of prisoners belonging to the same labour company. Bezsonoff
belonged to the 5th company, but Sazonoff, for example, to the 7th.
Although I was continually in danger of ruining the whole laboriously
contrived scheme, I nevertheless managed to get all our men into one

Early in the morning of May 18th, 1925, two parties, among others, were
taken to work outside the camp. A party from the 6th company was taken
to cut wood on the shore near Kem, and another — ours — to clean out the
Red soldiers' barracks, on Popoff Island itself. This threatened to ruin
the whole plan — it was impossible to get away from Popoff Island.

All this time a Tchekist named Myasnikoff had been keeping a
particularly watchful eye on me. He sometimes said he had been a hussar,
sometimes a sailor, sometimes a colleague of Dzerzhinsky; in the camp he
was deputy-commander of a labour regiment. I had, under his eyes, to
invent some reason for sending our party to the woods, and not the
other. After a minute's thought, I went up to the party from the 6th
company and said:

"You fellows'll be simply frozen in the woods with such rags on, and
only bast shoes. You'd better go to the barracks."

Our men had specially mended their clothes and boots for the occasion.

Luckily for us, just at this moment Myasnikoff was called away for some
reason or other. I led our party up to the guards, and said:

"Now, comrades, take us off to work in the woods."

Never has my heart beaten as it did in that minute. They gave us an
escort of two Red soldiers, and took us off to work.



_An Initial Success — Covering our Tracks — Bezsonoff as Dictator —
Traces of our Pursuers — A Trap._

We cut wood till 8 a.m. At that hour a goods train came from Popoff
Island to Kem; it would have been dangerous to try to escape before
then. When the train had disappeared, Bezsonoff gave the signal arranged
long before — he turned up his collar. We flung ourselves on the
soldiers from behind. We succeeded in disarming one of them immediately.
The other pushed away Malbrodsky and Sazonoff, whose business it was to
disarm him, and began to yell. Luckily we were nearly three miles from
the camp. I gave the Red soldier a blow in the side, and he fell.

I was for shooting the two soldiers; they were both Communists and
belonged to the Gpu troops. But Bezsonoff persuaded me not to do so,
arguing that an act of vengeance at such a moment was useless, and that
no one would gain anything by it.

At that moment the Kuban Cossack, who had flung himself on the ground in
surprise, stretched out his hands to us, and cried:

"Little brothers, don't kill me!"

We calmed him.

"What are you making all this noise about, you fool? Nobody's going to
kill you. The freedom you had in the Solovky Kalinin gave you, we give
you the freedom you have now. Do as you like. If you go back to the camp
you'll be shot. If you come with us, there's a risk there too. Or, if
you like, go south on your own, to the Kuban. We can do without you. Do
as you like."

The Cossack came with us. His name, by the way, was Pribludin.

We had decided long before to cover our tracks in every possible way.
Our real objective being the frontier between Russia and Finland, which
lay to westward, we went due north for twenty miles along the railway
embankment, taking the two Red soldiers with us. After covering nine
miles, we sent one of the soldiers off in a westerly direction, and the
second when we had gone eleven miles, first taking off their boots. We
reckoned that even if they found the way back they would not reach the
camp before the following morning.

We came to a railwayman's hut. We asked the pointsman to sell us bread
(we had six tchervontsy, which we had saved while we were preparing to
escape), but the man, apparently a Communist, refused. We had to take
the food by force. We loaded up Pribludin, Sazonoff and Malbrodsky with
the provisions and went on for three miles in a northerly direction,
then turned east, then south, and came back almost to the same place
from which we had started northward two days before. We crossed the
railway embankment and steered due west.

During these first days we walked without a break, either by day or by,
night. The "rests" mentioned in Bezsonoff's diary, which he kept on the
inside of the cover of his Bible, were halts of a few minutes only for
food. Our weariness soon began to make itself felt. There were no roads;
our route lay over damp ground, covered with thick undergrowth, and
endless marshes. Bezsonoff, who had constituted himself an inexorable
dictator to the rest of us, brandished a rifle under the nose of anyone
who stopped even for a minute, and threatened to kill him on the spot.
At the time we thought him cruel, but I know now that the merciless
insistence of our "dictator" contributed in a high degree to the success
of our flight.

We changed direction sharply once again and marched southward, towards
the river Kem. A snowstorm overtook us. The violence of the tempest blew
us off our legs. My boots got burnt through at a fire; luckily I had an
old pair of goloshes with me, and put them on, winding strips of rag
round my legs. It is possible that the fearful blizzard, which caused us
such hardships, benefited us at the same time, for the snow covered our

Our bread was all finished. We had thirty bits of sugar left. We had
introduced a "starvation ration," and were sharing out every crumb, when
we came to the hamlet Poddiujnoe.

[Illustration: Rough Map Showing our Route]

Near the hamlet we found the footmarks of Tchekists. As Bezsonoff had on
a pair of Government boots, taken from one of the Red soldiers, we were
able to compare the tracks and ascertain that the footmarks were those
of soldiers belonging to the Gpu troops. We also found the footmarks of
police dogs. So we knew that we were being hunted with dogs.

We decided to go on westward along the bank of the river Kem, without
making any detour. My feet were so badly frost-bitten that the pain
sometimes brought tears into my eyes, but there was nothing for it but
to go on and on. About ten miles from Poddiujnoe we met two Karelians.
On seeing us they were filled with horror at our convict-like
appearance, and at our situation. They told us that all Karelia had been
informed by telephone that five men had escaped from the Solovky, and
ten poods of flour promised for each fugitive handed over. They had seen
ten Tchekists with dogs. Moreover, a motor launch from Kem, with six men
on board, was patrolling the river.

We asked the Karelians for bread and tobacco. They gave us two loaves
and a packet of _makhorka_ (coarse tobacco), for which we paid three
roubles — they had no change. They advised us to make for a dairy farm
twenty miles from Poddiujnoe. We found, in due course, that a regular
trap had been laid for us at this dairy farm. But I do not think the two
Karelians sent us into it intentionally.

As a rule, when we came near a human habitation, we lay on the ground
for two hours, watching to see who went into and came out of the house.
We did so this time, and saw nothing suspicious. Sazonoff, Malbrodsky
and Pribludin remained behind, while Bezsonoff and I went forward. The
house stood apart from the farm buildings. Bezsonoff opened the door. In
the very act of entering he gave a wild yell of "Red soldiers!" On
opening the door, he saw right in front of him three rifles aimed at
him. Being an exceptionally cool-headed man, he did not lose his head,
but instantly slammed the door to and fired through it.

I leapt to the door. The Red soldiers kept quite still. It would have
been stupid to fight them. We decided to retreat to the woods. But we
had to pass the window of the house, and the Tchekists would have shot
us down from the window like partridges. Bezsonoff took up a position
close to the stables, in a place from which he could fire at the window
at any moment if one of the soldiers showed himself at it; I stood on
the other side, also holding my rifle at the ready.

Then, abandoning our posts, we gave ourselves the order, "Quick — bolt!"
and were about to make for the woods when a motor launch, with six
soldiers on board, came up to the bank from the direction of the mouth
of the Shomba, a tributary of the Kem. The Red soldiers in the house
leapt out of the windows on the opposite side, facing the river. I did
not see any use in firing. Bezsonoff, however, fired at the launch. The
Tchekists leapt ashore and flung themselves into the woods. Weeping and
wailing arose from another boat, loaded with women and children, the
families of Karelian fishermen. We retired hastily into the woods.



_Sazonoff as Raft-builder — A Bitter Disappointment — A Hay-maker's
Larder — We Pillage a Communist's Farm — A Narrow Shave — Sazonoff's
Swimming Achievement._

We recommenced our exhausting journey through the marshes, covered with
thick scrub. We had no food. Despair took the place of hope in our
hearts. Time after time we fell down from exhaustion and weariness. My
frost-bitten feet caused me fearful torment.

We continued to follow the river Kem almost due south, then turned west.
Thus, falling and getting up, and falling into the water again, we
covered twenty-five miles. We came to a big lake, with fishermen's huts
on the shore. The men were not at home. We took a quantity of food and
left a tchervonets on a stone with a note which ran:

"We are sorry, but necessity compels us to steal. We leave you a

For a long time we did not know how to get across the lake. We tried to
go round, and walked ten miles — still we were confronted by water. Then
Sazonoff, who had grown up in the neighbourhood of water, made some odd
little rafts, fastening planks together with everything we had — rifle
slings, belts, shirts — and brought us over to the other side. This
voyage across the lake, I remember, used up what little energy we still
had. Indeed, when I now recall all that we went through in those
dreadful days, I cannot understand how we endured such a strain, both
physical and mental, and how it was that we did not fall down dead
somewhere in the Karelian mosses. But evidently God thought fit to save
us, to bring us out of the dense, marshy jungle, that we might bear
witness to the whole world of the place of torment into which a
loathsome government has turned the once holy Solovetsky Monastery.

After crossing the lake, we decided to march due west. More marshes in
endless succession, no paths, not a scrap of bread. We usually endured
the pangs of hunger for three days, and on the fourth day went in search
of bread, at the risk of falling into a trap. While in search of
provisions, we came upon a wooden road through the marshes, evidently
laid down by the British. We could see no tracks on it. We held a
council of war, and decided to turn off northward in the hope of coming
to a habitation. We covered twenty miles: not a soul.

Then we came to another lake, and there, on the other side, was a large
village. We could hear voices and the barking of dogs. We dragged
ourselves to the bank. Bezsonoff and Sazonoff stood by the water's edge
for a long time, and shouted:

"Hallo! Hallo!"

At last we made ourselves heard. A boat came over, rowed by a Karelian.

"Can we get any bread? We'll pay for it."

"Yes, you can get bread, you can get anything you like," the honest
fisherman replied. "But there are Tchekists from the Solovky in the
village, searching for you."

Once more we had to plunge into the depths of the scrub. It rained
unceasingly, the days were raw and windy. For four more days we had
nothing to eat. We had only our tobacco.

At last we came to a wooden footpath raised above the water. We went
along it and came to a tiny hut in the middle of the marshes. We
examined the little place carefully, but could find nothing eatable.
While the rest of us were making a fire of brushwood in the rain,
Bezsonoff continued to prospect in the neighbourhood of the hut, and
suddenly returned from his reconnaissance with five loaves of black
bread in his hands. He ate greedily as he walked. I thought at first it
was a hallucination caused by hunger, but no, it was real bread, and
plenty of it!

It was evidently a hut belonging to Karelian hay-makers. They bring
their stores of food to their huts in winter, because in summer it is
impossible to get to them; the marshes are turned into an inland sea.
Not far from our hut Bezsonoff found a wooden shelter like a gigantic
mushroom, with an opening in the middle, and under it exactly a hundred
huge loaves, three bags of groats and a bag of salt. Our joy knew no
bounds. We decided to have a good rest. Happily, the possibility of a
Tchekist ambush in the midst of the marshes — the passage of which was
quite impracticable except by a footpath such as we had found — could be
almost entirely dismissed. We made out of that bread (in fancy) tea,
cooked meat and various kinds of soup! We lived in the hut until each of
us had five cakes of bread left.

Then — westward once again! Water, water, water without end. We marched
for nearly a week on the five cakes per man. We found a path, which led
us to a lonely dairy farm. We hid, kept our ears open, and finally sent
Sazonoff on to get food. When he came back with bread and butter we
noticed that a peasant woman ran out of the cottage and hurried to a
boat which lay by the bank. We had evidently come to a Communist's
house, and the woman had gone to fetch Red soldiers. We fired a few
shots after her; she took fright and went back to the house.

We pillaged those Communists without mercy. We took a tub of butter, a
lot of white bread, and all the fish there was in the house. We had now
so much food that even Bezsonoff and I, who usually walked at the head
of the party in "light marching order," rifle in hand, had each of us to
shoulder a sack.

We were by this time simply in rags. The thorny bushes had torn our
clothes to shreds; our boots had come unstitched. With tangled beards,
incredibly filthy faces, holes at knees and elbows, we looked like
cannibals, or escaped convicts — which, for that matter, was just what
we were.

Going along a narrow path through the woods, we came upon tracks of Red
soldiers' boots and the stump of a _makhorka_ cigarette. As we had no
tobacco left by then, we eagerly seized the stump, and each of us had
two puffs at it. Sazonoff and Malbrodsky insisted that we should leave
the dangerous path. We came to a river. We looked for a ford for over
three hours, but could not find one, and had to go back to the path we
had abandoned.

After we had walked for a long time we came to a place where the marks
of many feet were plainly visible. We knew from this that we were quite
close to the frontier; but we could not say even approximately where the
frontier was. We had no map, and none of us knew how many miles we had
to go to reach Finland. The arrow of the compass showed us where west
lay, and that was all.

We followed the tracks cautiously. We had just gone round a slight
hillock, when from behind a big rock there came a hail of bullets. I was
so taken by surprise that I stopped dead. Fifty or sixty rounds were
fired at us point blank. We saw the flashes from the rock. But not one
of us was touched. Not till then did we perceive that the ambush was
laid on both sides of the path. The woods, particularly dense at that
spot, saved us. We scattered among the undergrowth. The firing went on
for a long time. It may have been the Soviet frontier patrol we had

Moving swiftly westward, we came to a halt again at the river. We could
still find no ford. We tried to find a way round; we went a long way and
came back again. We learnt a few days later that this stream was the
frontier between Russia and Finland. It is considered impassable, and
is, therefore, guarded by neither Finlanders nor Russians.

But cross the river we must; it blocked our route westward. Sazonoff
swam to the opposite bank. Malbrodsky plunged into the water and began
to drown. The strong current swept him downstream; I dragged him out
with difficulty. I myself was carried for several yards downstream; I
began to suffocate, but in the nick of time I stuck the muzzle of my
rifle into the river bottom and supported myself on it. We did not know
what to do. We had no strength at all. We jumped recklessly into the
water several times, and every time returned to the bank completely
exhausted. Then Sazonoff gave us another exhibition of his skill in
mastering any current; he carried each of us in turn over to the
opposite bank on his back!

This was at three o'clock on the morning of June 15th.



_Linguistic Difficulties — Joyful Certainty — Bezsonoff's Diary —
Finnish Peasant's Claim for Damages — A Friend in Need — Free at Last._

We had not a dry thread on us. Our cartridges were soaked. Our fingers
shook with cold, we could not speak to one another. To crown all, our
small supply of bread had run out. Luckily, a couple of days later we
came upon a deer in the woods, and Bezsonoff, who had contrived, unlike
the rest of us, to keep his ammunition dry, shot it. In our joy we ate
half of it at once without bread. We made soup out of a part of it, and
took the cooked meat that was left over along with us. The result of
this feast was that we all fell ill with an acute gastric disorder, and
for several days were so weak that we could hardly walk.

After a long tramp we came, two days after we had crossed the river, to
a cottage. We went in and asked the people to sell us bread and other
food. They could not speak or understand a word of Russian. Supposing
ourselves to be already in Finland,[35] we repeatedly asked:

"Where are we? What is this? Finland? Russians?"

We had recourse to mimicry, to talking on our fingers. It was quite
useless. (On arriving in Finland, by the way, we discovered that the
Finnish name for the country is Suomi.)

We took some food of various kinds, and offered them a tchervonets. They
would not take it. We gave them all our small change, ninety silver
kopeks; they took the silver. We went off, followed by unfriendly looks.

Several more days passed, full of uncertainty. Had we crossed the
frontier or not? Were we in Finland or still in the U.S.S.R.? If we
assumed the former to be the case, did we not risk making our escape a
failure after all the difficulties we had overcome, and falling into the
hands of the Tchekists again?

On June 23rd we came to a big river. There were a crowd of people on the
opposite bank; evidently wood-floating was in preparation. We had
noticed during the past week a certain change in our surroundings, signs
of order and culture; and we had found a cigarette box with an
inscription that was not in Russian. The workmen on the river bank were
much better clothed than Russian workmen are. After long hesitation and
uneasiness we decided that the frontier lay behind us. We called for a
boat to be sent from the other side. The workmen who came across
explained to us, certainly not without difficulty, that the U.S.S.R. lay
far in our rear.

For a moment or two we could not utter a word for mingled joy and
weariness; all our strength seemed suddenly to leave us. Bezsonoff
chronicled that unforgettable moment in his diary in one significant
word: "Finland."

Our "dictator" kept this diary on the inside of the cover, the back of
the table of contents, and the last (440th) page of the "New Testament
of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Synod edition of 1916). He made short pencil
notes daily. These disconnected entries, which had in truth been through
fire and water, give the clearest possible picture of all the
vicissitudes of our flight. It was thanks to them that we did not lose
count of the days.

I give some typical extracts from Bezsonoff's diary:

  May 18th, 1925. — Disarmed escort and escaped. . . . .
  " 21st. — Bivouac in woods. Stayed in hut on
             account of snowstorm. . . . .
  " 24th. — Snow continued. Stopped in evening. . . .
  " 26th. — Snow thawing. At 2 p.m. started for
             river Kem, at 7 p.m. came to hamlet
             Poddiujnoe. 11 p.m., met two peasants.
             Got some bread. Night. Going along
             river Kem. In good spirits. At
             Poddiujnoe ambushes of Red soldiers, who
             went off in search of us.
  May 27th. — Marched all night and day without rest.
             Food quite finished. At 7 p.m. came to
             dairy farm 22 miles from Poddiujnoe.
             Going into farm fell into ambush of Red
             soldiers. After firing Red soldiers cleared
             off in boat. We hurried along Kem,
             getting food from fishermen. Not much
             food. Have to go hungry. Horribly
             tired. At 2 a.m. left bank of Kem and
             halted for rest at 6 a.m.
  " 28th. — Rested all day. Little to eat. All have
             legs badly swollen. . . . .
  " 29th. — Night march through "impassable"
             marshes. Day resting. Pushed on in
             evening. Rest. Cloudberries, geese, hare.
             Midnight. Malbrodsky unable to march
             from exhaustion, rested. . . .
  " 30th. — About 11 p.m. successfully crossed r.
             Shomba. Relief and joy great. God be
             praised. Marched all night. . . . .
  June 1st. — In the morning unexpectedly came to
             fishermen's hut; they were out fishing.
             Took bread from them, leaving 3 roub.
             Great help. Going on. Lost our way
             among lakes. Made raft. Ferried over.
             Creator. Nearly morning. All slept.
             God be praised. Help us in the future
             also, O God, and save us from our enemies.
             And I believe He will help us.
  June 6th. — Rest. The little hut. At the moment I
             am morally and physically a happy man.
             Nature, sky, beauty. . . . God has wrought
             a miracle.
  " 8th. — Weather changed. Warm. Water falling.
             Eat every 2 hours and thank God. Almost
             night. Fire. I cannot sleep. I keep watch.
             Situation good. Nothing of note. We
             reckon we have covered 18 miles of
             "impassable" marshes. . . .
  " 11th. — Marched all night. In the morning stopped
             for "short halt" to drink hot water.
             Went on. Rested at 6 p.m. Little hut
             No. 2. Moved on in evening. So much
             the nearer our goal. I reckon we are
             thirteen miles from frontier. I have two
             pieces of bread left, Malbrodsky none at all.
  " 12th. — Early this morning drank hot water in little
             shed by lake. Paths, lake, rain. Halt in
             broken-down hut. Nervy. No food.
             Lord help us! Went on in evening.
             Marching all night. Rain. Dew. Cold.
  June 13th. — Lake. Red soldiers. Line of patrols? Go
             round. Rest without fire. Nearly 6 miles
             west and no sign of frontier. According to
             my reckoning we crossed the frontier at
             12 p.m. Marched all night. Cold. Lit
             fire and halted till morning. No food at
  " 14th. — River. Retreat. Path. Ambushes. Shots
             point blank. God saved us. Praise Him.
             Flight. Back to river. Ghastly crossing.
  " 15th. — Rest after crossing. Spent day and night
             drying ourselves. Shared out food. Quarrel.
             Peace made. . . .
  " 17th. — Killed deer by lucky shot. . . . Ate nearly
  " 18th. — Moved off in morning. Halted for rest at
             12 p.m. Stopped all day.
  " 19th. — At 7 p.m. crossed a clearing. Rested.
             Clearing leads nowhere. Raid on dairy
             farm. Rest "with cows." . . . .
  " 21st. — Moved off in morning. Exhaustion.
             Uncertainty. Reluctance to march.
             Clearing. Came to an end. Came out on
             clearing. Telephone line. River. Wood-
             floating. Finland!

Bezsonoff evidently did not note all the days in his diary, for in
reality our flight came to an end on June 23rd, 1925.

The Finlanders received us very kindly, gave us food in abundance and
sent us to Uleaborg. The Chief of Police of Uleaborg moved us all to
tears by his attentions; he not only brought a quantity of food to the
prison for us, and supplied us with money, but he took me himself to a
doctor to have my frost-bitten feet bound up. I, in outward appearance a
complete bandit, dirty and in rags, felt strange in his smart carriage,
and could read on the faces of the people we met the dubious query: "Who
on earth is that convict in the Chief of Police's trap?"

We were, however, not liberated immediately. It appeared that the owner
of the dairy farm from which we had taken food a few days before, paying
for it with only about a rouble in silver (as the people would not take
our Soviet paper money), had made a complaint against us, demanding
compensation to the amount of 1,000 marks. The newspapers, privately
informed of the occurrence, wrote that "five Bolshevist bandits had
crossed the frontier and made an armed raid on a Finnish dairy farm."
While this affair was being settled, we had to spend several weeks in
prison, first at Uleaborg and then at Helsingfors. But even prison
seemed paradise to us after the Solovky and the Karelian jungles!

When we arrived at Helsingfors, the president of the special committee
for Russian affairs in Finland, A. N. Fenoult, came to see us in prison.
Thanks to his extraordinary energy, and the infinite trouble he took on
our behalf, we were very soon set at liberty, and were able to get
ourselves decent clothes and assume once more a human aspect. It was
significant that Malbrodsky (the other Pole, Sazonoff, being a native of
the former Government of Vilna, was not recognised as being a Polish
subject), who had immediately appealed to the Polish Consul, did not
leave prison until later than we, who had no official diplomatic

I should like to conclude my simple narrative by expressing our
heartfelt gratitude to all, both Finlanders and Russians, from whom, on
our arrival in Finland, we received so much kindness and sympathy. After
the ferocity shown by man towards man in the concentration camps, after
the devastating egoism, the hardness, the inhuman callousness, with
which the Bolsheviks have inoculated the unhappy Russian people, the
reception we met with in Finland touched us to the bottom of our hearts.

[Footnote 35: Language was not a certain guide, as the peasants on both
sides of the frontier are Finnish-speaking.]

_Made and Printed in Great Britain by C. Tinling & Co. Ltd., Liverpool
and at London and Prescot._

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