Days and Lives :: Arrest

Prisoner: Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia

“When I was taken to Krasnozersk (a big town, probably a district center) and interrogated, I didn’t conceal anything. I told who I was, how ended up in exile in Narym and why I left there; how I traveled and where I’d been. Much in that saga seemed improbable, but it happened! In the middle of the night, I was taken to speak to the investigator. He was extremely courteous and, I would say, affectionate. “We need your help. If you could help us…” he began in an ingratiating tone. “You probably know foreign languages?” ... “I am fluent in French, speak Romanian and German well, am familiar with English and Spanish, and know a little Italian.” He beamed. “How wonderful! We intercepted a telegram which we don’t understand. Perhaps you will help?” “With pleasure.” It was simply a collection of English words, the telegram was sent from Cote d’Azur in France, addressed to Delhi, India, and was about relatives. I very carefully composed a literal translation. After that, they charged that a plane transported me from Romania to Turkey and then here, and that I parachuted down to the Kuludinskaya steppe.”

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.