Days and Lives :: Arrest

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.”

Arrest and Interrogation

Arrests could happen anywhere, at any time and to anybody in Stalin’s Soviet Union. No Soviet citizen—no matter their power or position, no matter their "loyalty" to the state—could be certain that they were safe from arrest.

But most of the millions of imprisoned men, women, and children fell into four groups. First, the Gulag incarcerated those guilty of crimes (rape, murder, thievery, etc.) that would be punished in any society. Second, it held "political prisoners"—sometimes true prisoners of conscience, but as often, perfectly average people denounced by a personal rival, grabbed to fulfill arrest “quotas” established by the Stalinist leadership or arrested for something as innocuous as telling a joke about Stalin. Third, the Gulag seized members of certain social classes (like the so-called "kulaks" or "rich" peasants) and ethnic groups (such as Soviet Germans, Chechens, and Crimean Tatars) deemed dangerous by the Soviet state. Finally, the Gulag grabbed up the victims of arbitrary legal campaigns that meted out severe punishment for such “crimes” as leaving a job without permission or taking food from a field to feed a hungry family.

Whether arriving at Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka or at some regional prison, the newly arrested entered a basement labyrinth of crowded cells. The mass of suffering humanity inside immediately evaluated the toughness and worth of newcomers, usually forcing them to sit next to the "parasha"—the cell’s waste bucket. Torture and marathon interrogations offered the only respite from the cell, and even the strongest prisoner often broke and confessed to any made-up crime.