Days and Lives :: Arrest

Prisoner: Vladimir Tchernavin

“Each evening while the boy was in bed, my wife and I would sit together for a long time – waiting. We never spoke of it, but we both knew we were waiting and that these might be our last hours together. It happened at last, and very simply. The bell rang. I opened the door and saw the house superintendent with a stranger in civilian dress. I understood. The stranger handed me a paper – the order for search and arrest. He entered the room which served as both bedroom and study and began the search. It was a very superficial one, only a formality. When my wife came home the search was finished and I was preparing for my ‘journey’: two changes of underwear, a pillow, a blanket, a few pieces of sugar and several apples. ‘I am ready,’ I said to the GPU agent, thinking to myself, ‘ready for death.’”

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.