Days and Lives :: Prisoners

Nina Pavlovna Aminova

Introduction

Nina Pavlovna Aminova was a laboratory worker at a synthetic rubber plant in Yaroslavl when she was arrested in 1953 for criticizing Joseph Stalin and poet Vladimir Mayakovsky in a conversation with coworkers. As a political prisoner, she was sent to Sheksninskii camp in Volgograd in 1953 where she worked at a sewing factory. She was released in 1955 and fully rehabilitated in 1957. She returned to the same plant, got married and raised a son. Nina Pavlovna took part in “Popular Front” and “Memorial” movements and wrote poetry, including a poem which summarizes her experience in the camps.

Arrest

Aminova was arrested at work. “On March 18,1953 a man in boots and a light coat came to the laboratory. He informed Olga Preobrazhenskaia and me that we were being summoned… I thought, where could I possibly be summoned. Then I remembered that the day before there was a meeting on the occasion of Stalin’s death and thought, maybe they want me to give a speech at another meeting… We got to the entrance… The man sent Olya and me in opposite directions. I entered the room… They told me, ‘You’re under arrest.’ I asked, ‘Why?’ They didn’t reply… They took me to the next room and searched me; put me in a car and took me to the dormitory to get my things… [They] took my only watch and a gilded powder case… It was springtime… They took me to the ‘Grey House’ [The Secret Police Headquarters] in Yaroslavl and put me in a cell meant for two prisoners.”

Labor

“In Sheksninskii camp there was a factory where we made soldiers’ pants, shirts, and work clothes. The shift at the factory lasted 9 hours. We had norms… We got paid very little for our work. But we knew that with this money we could buy something to eat at the canteen… We walked to work in line, often accompanied by music, under the red flag… This was propaganda to make us work harder.”

Suffering

“We were fed oatmeal and soup made of dried potatoes. Our rations were 700 grams of bread per person… We lived in barracks, or as they called them “sections.” … We slept on bunks… They had two levels of them… Older people slept usually on the lower bunk… I slept on the top.”

Propaganda

“We were fed oatmeal and soup made of dried potatoes. Our rations were 700 grams of bread per person… We lived in barracks, or as they called them “sections.” … We slept on bunks… They had two levels of them… Older people slept usually on the lower bunk… I slept on the top.”

Solidarity

“There were Poles, Lithuanians, Germans born in Russia, Ukrainians from Western Ukraine. As far as Ukrainian women are concerned, they mainly came from juvenile institutions where they were put at the age of 12-13. When they got to be 19 years old, they were moved to general penal colonies. They were vivacious and sang very well. We had good relations, very positive.”

Conflict

“Non-political prisoners—“bytoviki”—called us “fascists.” … We complained about them… But the guards only answered: “Well, nothing can be done about this… You can call them back “bandaids.” Women “bytoviki” often fought with one another… After Stalin’s death they felt more freedom, and were no longer afraid to stage battles amongst themselves.”

Guards

“It was important that I got to the camp after Stalin’s death, and after Khrushchev’s speech for the XX Congress of the CPSU… The situation began to change… Many were amnestied… If I had a term 5 years instead of 10, I would have been amnestied as well… Guards treated us fine… The times were different… There was a bit more freedom in the camps.”

Survival

“Most of all, my life was easier because of my friendship with Aleksandra Vasilievna Lebedeva. She was from Leningrad. She was the same age as my mother… Also among us we had a professor of history and culture from Kiev University, Polina Arkadievna Kulzhenko. She was 63. She worked at the camp’s library and had organized a literary group. I began to participate in the meetings of the group. We discussed literary works, and then performed them for other prisoners. I remember very well how we studied Galina Nikolaeva’s work, “Harvest.” Later we also asked Polina Arkadievna to give us lectures on history and culture, but she refused…”

Fates

“After I was released I returned to Yaroslavl, to my dormitory… I did not have any other place to live then. They received me well. I got the same job I had before, and later was accepted to an institute for chemistry and technology. I really wanted to study education at a university… But it did not work out… When I was released I still had to complete my high school education, the 10th grade… But I lost so much time… At a university I would have to study for another 5 or 6 years… Then I got married, had a son… For a long time after I got out, I was afraid that I would say something wrong somewhere and they would send me to the camp again… I remember I did not even answer a letter from my friend Klavdia Ivanovna Dvornikova, my cellmate. I was afraid… Afraid that someone was still watching me.”