Days and Lives :: Prisoners

Galina Ivanovna Levinson

Introduction

Galina Levinson was born in Moscow to a Jewish father and a Russian mother. She was a student at the Kuibyshev Institute for Engineering and Construction when she was arrested as the wife of an enemy of the people. Her husband was friends with Stepan Radomyslenskii, a son of an important party official Zinoviev, who became a target of public political prosecution in 1936. In 1937 she was sent to Temnikovskii camp in Mordovia. Her term officially ended in 1942, but because of the war she was required to work at the camp as a "free employee" until 1946.

Arrest

"They arrested me the night before September 1, 1937. My son was 1 year and 22 days old. My mother took him in. My dad helped out, but he was also arrested in November, as I found out much later…Only one man, in NKVD uniform, came for me. The search was not very thorough. I said good bye to my mother, kissed my sleeping son, and left…My interrogation lasted ten-fifteen minutes. Then I was sent to my cell again. In the end of the month I was sent for again to sign my sentence—five or eight years of ITL (correctional labor camps). I got five years."

Labor

"... Then we began to get the equipment for the sowing factory. They called on Bronislava Borisovna Mainfeld—one of the first women in the Soviet Union who graduated from the Baumansky Institute—and made her the senior mechanic at the factory. So Mainfeld chose people who had some relationship to technology, and we started, on our own, with the help of a carpenter, Stanislav Ivanovich, we put together the assembly line. Then we were promoted to assistant mechanics. After a month or two the factory went into operation. We made camp uniforms. We worked in two shifts. At first, before the war, in eight hour shifts. ... [When the war began in 1941,] we switched to eleven-hour day ten-hour night shifts. We began to make army uniforms. Our food got worse. Our factory supplies, especially the needles for the sowing machines, got scarce, or completely dried out. But we found a solution. With our carpenters we organized the production of needles from steel wire."

Suffering

"The barracks, of course, had two-level plank beds. Each was for eight people: four at the bottom, for at the top. At night, the barracks were locked and we used buckets… When we arrived, they gave us mattress covers and straw to fill them, pillow covers and straw for the pillows, half-wool blankets, and, I think, even rough sheets. [...] For the first year and a half, we didn’t have the right to correspondence… Then, they let women who gave birth in the camp to write. When their children grew to one year old, women got permission to inquire about kids who were sent to orphanages. Only after we were all allowed to write one letter a month."

Propaganda

"The barracks, of course, had two-level plank beds. Each was for eight people: four at the bottom, for at the top. At night, the barracks were locked and we used buckets… When we arrived, they gave us mattress covers and straw to fill them, pillow covers and straw for the pillows, half-wool blankets, and, I think, even rough sheets. [...] For the first year and a half, we didn’t have the right to correspondence… Then, they let women who gave birth in the camp to write. When their children grew to one year old, women got permission to inquire about kids who were sent to orphanages. Only after we were all allowed to write one letter a month."

Solidarity

"Several times I brought my son to the shop. He was about eight years old. One criminal prisoner, Lida Chkareulli, grew very fond of him. The girl was about seventeen years old. She had already spent three years at another prison camp…. She headed a teenage gang. But she was a fair-minded and inquisitive girl. ... She got attached to my son. She even made a book with her own drawings and poems."

Conflict

"I don’t remember when, probably in 1944, the barracks freed after the Polish women had left were filled with criminal prisoners. Usually these criminals did not give us any trouble. There were more of us. But when prisoners were allowed to set up small gardens inside the zone, as I have described, a night thief started to visit the garden of my friend Mainfeld and another older woman and and pluck their carrots. ... I decided to patrol their garden. I got a good wooden club and waited. At night a huge woman named “Chuma” came to their garden…. But I beat her with the club, until she fell into a ditch and crawled away on all fours. I, of course, was extremely afraid… But the criminals evidently had their own ethics: because we didn’t complain to the administration, but took care of it ourselves, they also didn’t complain. And left our gardens alone."

Guards

"Tatiana Grechaninova, of course, did not want to give birth in the camp and asked Shapochkin to permit her to have an abortion. Shapochkin replied: “Grechaninova, you no longer have a husband. When you leave the camp, you will be alone. Think how good it would be if you had a child, a close human being.” He convinced her (she told me about this before she died). She had a beautiful daughter, a grandson, and she was grateful to Shapochkin all her life."

Survival

"But we had a sewing factory. When the cloth is cut, thin swaths of cloths are left—the "fringe." We could pull threads out of this fringe, and make hats, sweaters—for us, and for exchange for food in the closest village, Mukhan. Only free workers could go there. And we did this—for ourselves and for the prisoners. Ten kilometers there, ten back…"

Fates

Levinson left the camp in 1946. In 1988 she began to work for “Memorial” in Moscow. In 1992, when she was 83, she went to live in the United States. “My grandson says that I shouldn’t have to come back from the United States then, when I was a child. I’m not sure. I lived through our sorrow with everyone else. I don’t have much time left. I will live it out somehow.”