Days and Lives :: Suffering

Prisoner: Lev Kopelev

“It was unbearably hot and stuffy. We sat on the floor in our underpants. We were all thirsty. The [toilet] bucket could be carried out only when it was full to the brim. There was no shortage of volunteers for the malodorous task: they could stop by a water faucet outside. On the third day there was still no bread. The shouts and wails were louder than ever and the reports of automatic rifle fire more frequent. ‘Shot three of them today,’ said one of the guards who brought us the midday meal. He explained that there was no bread because the bakery had burned down, and they were waiting for bread from another bakery.”

Despair of a Prisoner


The indignities visited on prisoners did not stop with the hunger and the cold. Prisoners were frequently reminded that even their bodies were no longer their own.

Former prisoner Nadezhda Grankina recalled the indignities experienced by women arriving at a prison in Suzdal:

In the middle [of the cell], opposite the peephole, stood a table. Fifteen of us were called in. The duty officer came in and announced that anyone who attempted to resist would be severely punished…In came two women in uniform, who began to search us. They looked in our hair, inside our mouths, and between our toes and fingers. Then they ordered us to get dressed again and left. Two other women guards came in. One was wearing a rubber sheath on one of her fingers, and the other was carrying a glass with liquid in it. ’Take off your underpants and lie down,’ one of them said. Horrified, we huddled like sheep in a corner, not saying a word and trying to hide behind each other. Finally a young Austrian [female prisoner] spoke up: ’Oh, this is nothing to be afraid of,’ she declared defiantly, and lay down on the table opposite the peephole. The cover on the peephole continually scraped open and shut. A vaginal search: we also had to endure that. All of us had been brought there from maximum security prisons, and none of us could possibly have had anything illegal to hide. This was a simple act of barbarism.