Prisoner: Alfred Martinovich Mirek
“On August 29, 1942 at the end of the working day two portly men walked into the shop of the headquarters of the Ministry of Communications, where I worked. They wore blue caps with big flat visors, and their faces had content expressions of hunters who did not venture into the woods in vain. They placed the search warrant on the workbench and sluggishly went through the routine motions of searching me. They took my wallet and documents, including my Komsomol membership certificate, which I worked so hard to get. Then they walked me through the courtyard to the black car “Emka”. They took me to the internal prison of the Lubyanka. The interrogation was led by Novikov. The interrogation occurred only at night. The interrogator with persistence I could not understand kept repeating one thing: ‘Are you going to talk, bandit?!”...I felt that he had not presented himself very clearly, about what he wanted to hear from me and what I was supposed to say. I could understand even less, so I kept silent. I only wanted one thing: for him to leave me alone. ... After one interrogation the detective decided to use another, unconventional method to encourage discussion: he approached me from the left and suddenly stuck a burning cigarette in my neck. For many years a round scar reminded me of this man.”
Soviet citizens during Stalin's reign lived in constant fear of arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment. Once arrested, the accused had no rights to protest their incarceration and no access to a fair trial. Prisoners were either sentenced to death or to years of hard labor in the Gulag.
When citizens of Stalin’s Soviet Union climbed into bed at night, an uninterrupted sleep was never a guarantee. The secret police’s sharp 2 a.m. knock often launched an odyssey into the hellish depths of the Gulag. Many would never return alive.
When that 2 a.m. knock came, only one set of lights burned in an entire apartment building—that of the arrested man or woman. In cramped communal apartments, nothing remained secret, and neighbors would peek furtively out their door trying not to be noticed, trying not to be next. Frightened family members would watch as the secret police searched for potentially incriminating materials—anything that might indicate independent thought. Most new prisoners believed their arrest to be a mistake.
The Soviet police operated unpredictably, arresting people not only in the dark of night but also in the light of day. No matter when or where arrest occurred, special trucks outfitted with tiny prison cells hauled the new prisoners to their tormentors in an interrogation prison. The crushing loneliness of solitary confinement awaited some. Crowded cells smelling of sweat, urine, and feces greeted others. Prisoners only escaped their cell for marathon interrogations, enforced sleeplessness, and other forms of torture designed to elicit their “confessions” to often invented crimes. Interrogations concluded with a farcical trial that lasted perhaps several minutes before pronouncement of a predetermined verdict. For many, this was the end—a death sentence carried out almost immediately. The “lucky” found themselves boarding a stinking, crowded cattle car with just a hole in the floor for a toilet. Days or weeks later, they arrived to begin their sentence in a Gulag labor camp, usually with a weakened body and confused mind.