Days and Lives :: Prisoners

Anna Andreeva

Introduction

Alla Andreeva graduated from the Institute of Advanced Training for Artists in 1938 and worked as an artist. In 1947 she was arrested because of the case of her husband, writer Daniil Andreev, who publicly criticized the Soviet system. Andreeva was sentenced to 25 years in maximum security camps. In total, she spent nine years in the Mordovian Gulag camps.

Arrest

“Usually people write about being beaten and tortured. But it was not always the case. I was not beaten. I think I was not beaten because the interrogator soon realized that he could break me by totally different means with much better results. People who worked there were professionals…The interrogator called me by my first name and patronymic, and recited poems to me. He told me: “Alla Aleksandrovna, please, tell me how people like you and the others who are now under arrest, how you, Russian people, can grow such hatred toward our country’s regime and the way of life in our Motherland. We want to understand what our intelligentsia thinks…” I was a fool and told everything. For more than a year. I couldn’t forget that the man sitting before me interrogating me was Russian, like me. They used this sentiment as a trap… And so I openly and in detail explained to the detective what not only I but also others had against Soviet rule, Communism, everything that was done to Russia.”

Labor

“I worked in the KVCh (this was the Cultural Educational Section, which had no culture and didn’t educate anybody). I wrote on and on some kind of nonsense: endless slogans, appeals. I don’t remember a single line from what I composed. Because we as “people’s enemies” were prohibited to use red color, brown boards with white letters hung all over the camp. Out of nowhere, I developed an ability to paint any nonsense with extreme speed, almost by freehand. Then we produced some muddled newspapers, devoted to the fact that we surpassed the production plan and will continue to surpass it in future…”

Suffering

“Lefortovo was a terrible prison… They didn’t let me sleep for three weeks. Their system was probably developed by doctors: you were allowed to sleep for one hour per 24 hours and one night a week. And people went mad, but not completely. Possibly, one could lose one’s mind completely, but they needed to keep the suspect in a half-mad condition. I was called in for questioning every night… When I returned to the cell, my sleep was not sleep, but delusion. I was falling somewhere… Afterwards the entire day went without sleep; all the time they watched through the spy hole, and I couldn’t even lean against the wall. Then another night of interrogation followed.”

Propaganda

“Lefortovo was a terrible prison… They didn’t let me sleep for three weeks. Their system was probably developed by doctors: you were allowed to sleep for one hour per 24 hours and one night a week. And people went mad, but not completely. Possibly, one could lose one’s mind completely, but they needed to keep the suspect in a half-mad condition. I was called in for questioning every night… When I returned to the cell, my sleep was not sleep, but delusion. I was falling somewhere… Afterwards the entire day went without sleep; all the time they watched through the spy hole, and I couldn’t even lean against the wall. Then another night of interrogation followed.”

Solidarity

“There were Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Protestants among prisoners. Orthodox and Catholic Easter holidays coincide once in four years. Christmas never clashes. Regardless, the holiday was announced as a working day, even if it was Sunday. Prisoners acted simply. Let us say that Catholic and Protestant Christmas is approaching. They stay in the barrack to celebrate their holiday. Orthodox Christians silently, in groups of five, go in their place to the factory—the guards don’t care who comes, only how many—and work at the sewing machines. Later the Orthodox holiday comes. Catholics and Protestants go to work while Orthodox Christians remain to celebrate. They did this without discussing dogmas, searching for a common language, or trying to pray together, which was absurd, but giving each other a chance to celebrate their own holiday.”

Conflict

“Female criminals spoiled the whole camp in a literal sense: they found our costumes, accurately folded and hidden in the pantry. They got naked, bound with our belts, and put on carton hats… We put so much of our souls into these costumes!… Screaming “They will tear our costumes apart!” I ran to the administration. They gave me a horse and a cart, and a girl-driver to help… We put all costumes on the cart and took them away. Only afterwards I realized that our coolness must have hypnotized the female criminals. They could do anything with us: tear our costumes in pieces, beat or rape us. What were two women against the whole zone of female criminals?”

Guards

“The head of special unit came to me and asked: “Andreeva, draw the portrait of my wife and sons, but here is the deal…” The “deal” was the following… He brought photos of a woman when she was very young woman, the one he married, and of two boys, judging from the pictures, twelve–fourteen years old. I drew them against the backdrop of a sunny-sunny birch forest: a young woman sitting next to boys who looked more like her younger brothers. Both the head of the unit and his wife were very happy. As a token of gratitude he not only sent my letter, but also visited my parents and told them about me when he went on a business trip to Moscow.”

Survival

“There was some purely female way of fighting the brutality of prison—weird devices which would probably cause a man to laugh. For example, we curled our hair using some patches or slips of paper we found here and there. They constantly took them away but we managed to rip apart some other clothes, and walked around with well-combed curls, and a manicure to boot. We did it simply: we only needed a piece of a lime wall… So, when you walk in your cell from one corner to another, you need to scrape off some lime white with your palm. Then going back and forth and you rub your fingernails with the lime so they become so shiny that you don’t need any polish. Interrogators went mad with anger when they saw us with a manicure and styled hair.”

Fates

Andreeva was released on August 13, 1956. Her husband Daniil Andreev was released soon afterward. His health was very poor after the camps and he soon died. Andreeva was left alone. She remarried in 1963. She spent the rest of her life introducing Daniil Andreev’s literary work to the public. She didn’t have children. “When Daniil died, I was left hopelessly sick—after a series of operations, after radiation—with unhealthy blood and with no desire to live. I don’t know how it was possible for me to stay alive, but I did. Only I had Daniil’s drafts, saved from prison. That means that God wished me to stay alive on this earth, so I could preserve everything written by my husband for another thirty years… I began a quiet, solitary life, retyped drafts, and worked a lot as an artist.”