Days and Lives :: Arrest

Prisoner: Dimitri Panin

“I was placed in the corner cell, Number 196, on the fourth floor [at Lefortovo Prison]; directly beneath was death row. A woman down there was wailing without end like a wounded animal. We were forbidden to sleep during the day; anyone who disobeyed could wind up in the isolation cell. Interrogations were conducted only at night. Even when a man was spared this ordeal, he still slept badly, his senses always on the alert. Each prisoner thought they were coming for him; he listened with strained attention for footsteps, rustlings, the clanging of doors being opened. Screams frequently resounded through the prison. In the early hours of the morning it was not unusual to hear the howling of a man being taken out to be shot. Once in a great while there was a prisoner who, out of weariness and desperation, kicked up a row, vowing that he would not go to another interrogation.”

An Enemy of the People

Those Left Behind

The parents, spouses, and children whom prisoners left behind faced a difficult life. In her poem "Requiem," Anna Akhmatova voiced the pain of those hoping for the slightest news about the fate of loved ones on the far side of the prison wall.

In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months waiting in line outside the prison in Leningrad

And I pray not for myself alone
but for all who stood outside the jail,

in bitter cold or summer's blaze,
with me under that blind red wall...

And if my country should ever assent
to casting in my name a monument,

I should be proud to have my memory graced,
but only if the monument be placed

not near the sea on which my eyes first opened—
my last link with the sea has long bee broken...

but here, where I endured three hundred hours
in line before the implacable iron bars...

And from my motionless bronze-lidded sockets
may the melting show, like teardrops, slowly trickle...

Poems of Akhmatova, selected, translated, and introduced by Stanley Kunitz with Max Hayward. Boston, 1973.