Days and Lives :: Solidarity

Prisoner: Alla Tumanova

“For several months one of the distractions that helped me get by was ‘correspondence by knocking’ on the wall with the neighboring cell. Unfortunately, I was ill prepared for prison life having never learned Morse code. My neighbor, though, didn’t seem to have learned it either. So she and I had to invent our own personal code. I confess this was my first genuine feeling of joy for a long time: someone on the other side of the wall wanted to be friends! I liked my invisible neighbor from the start, and from the beginning of the day was impatient for each ‘meeting.’ But our contact was brief. One day the door unexpectedly opened and a furious sergeant, the one who was senior on the floor came in. ‘Why are you knocking on the wall? Don’t you know that it is forbidden in prison? The interrogator will be informed of this.’”

Individual Relationships

Living in the Gulag fostered intense hatreds, but also intense friendship and even love. A prisoner’s network of friends became like a new family.

Along with all its horrific stories of brutality and inhumanity, the Gulag was filled with moving tales of compassion. Dmitri Panin recalled one such moment: "I encountered a prisoner named Zaitsev. Before my arrest we had lived in the same engineers’ barracks, although I do not recall that we had ever engaged in conversation. But now he joined me as I was walking about the camp one day. No doubt I presented such a pitiful sight that he was quite overcome. He asked me to come inside. I replied that the five steps up were too much for me and suggested that if he had something to show me, I would be better off waiting for him on the bench outside. A minute later he came back out, holding a small package that turned out to contain bread. The compassion of this virtual stranger so impressed me that, in my weakened condition, my eyes filled with tears. I whispered, ‘What marvelous people there are in this world.’ With perfect clarity I saw how the power of goodness was uniting the two of us in that single moment of time, how it ignited the spark of love. This is what holds the world together."