by Anniel 8/1/14
Author: Vladimir V. Tchernavin. First Published in 1934. Available on Kindle • This is the book clandestinely read by Whittaker Chambers when he was beginning his break from Communism. It is a harrowing, heart-breaking read, but answers some of the most perplexing questions about Soviet communists: Why did they insist on getting phony confessions from people they could kill at will? What possible difference did the confessions make when everyone knew they were lies? How did they control so many people? Why were there so few escapees?
Vladimir Tchernavin was a young, educated fisheries expert working in the Karelia Region of northern Russia bordering Finland. His wife and young son lived at home in Leningrad. The first part of the book deals with his early life, education, and his work in the fisheries, the job he loved. At first his descriptions of the fisheries seemed a little long and tedious, but the importance of the information became clear as the book progressed.
When the Soviet government was firmly entrenched under Stalin, most of the intelligentsia, those in scientific, production, educational and religious fields still felt safe. Tchernavin thoroughly explores the cascading events of the Great Terror, which began in the early 1920’s, and led to the gradual takeover of all means of business and production, and the establishment of mandated 5-Year Plans.
FIVE YEAR PLANS
These plans were touted as a way of increasing production in essential food stuffs, clothing, lumber, mining and manufacturing. In the fisheries the harvest was “required” to be doubled each year, while the areas to be fished were also mandated. For instance, under the plan, the fishing fleets would be sent to the Barents Sea under orders to bring in 50,000,000 tons of pollock, then when the pollock were not in the Sea that year, or less than the mandated amount was caught, the fishing crews would all be arrested as wreckers who had deliberately sabotaged the glorious 5-Year Plan.
Or, if by some chance their quotas were met, they still had to double that quota each year, until the next 5-Year Plan
This led to the total collapse of the fisheries and the arrests and subsequent executions of all the 48 Soviet experts in the field, even as all other businesses in the country were being destroyed in like manner. Tchernavin tells how this terror affected the lives of his co-workers and the families of those around him until his own arrest by the GPU (Soviet Secret Police) in 1931.
On the very first day of his incarceration Tchernavin was accused of being a wrecker, the charge could not be defined for him nor could the GPU interrogator tell him what he had wrecked. He decided he would never confess to anything, nor would he lie, no matter what. That resolve is probably the only reason he was not shot. The living conditions in the prison were so revolting as to destroy the will to survive. Starvation, thirst, insects and disease (scurvy, typhus, etc.) were used to destroy morale. The descriptions of other diabolical means used to force confessions are incredible. Man’s inhumanity to his fellow men was on full display.
The GPU finally arrested Tchernavin’s wife, Tatiana, and said they would let her go only if he confessed. That move left his 11 year old son with no protection or means of survival. That night Tchernavin almost decided to give in and get it all over with. His fellow prisoners counseled him to never trust anything said by his interrogating officer. He came to the conclusion that the arrest of his wife was a desperate tactic to break his will and the only way he could protect his family was to remain true to his resolve to never confess.
He learned that a neighbor, a friend of his wife, had taken in his son, who, young as he was, brought what he could to his father in prison. After 6 months of incarceration Tchernavin was allowed one short visit with Tatiana before being given a 5 year sentence for wrecking. He managed through a friendly worker to be sent to a prison camp in the very region where he had worked in the fisheries, so he was familiar with the whole territory.
All his thoughts were on one thing, escape, but only with his family.
THE THREE PILLARS OF SOLOVKI
In his thoughts and writings about the Solovki Prison System,Tchernavin reveals how communism corrupted and kept its frightful hold on both its enemies and its adherents. He says that the GPU became its own ghost state within the Soviet state, complete with its own laws and leaders, and its hold was maintained by THREE pillars: FOUL LANGUAGE, PROTECTION and DENUNCIATION.
First Pillar – FOUL LANGUAGE: All prisoners were addressed by those over them in the worst possible language. Jews, intellectuals and priests were especially singled out for such treatment. A prisoner might be sent on a task, but not allowed to walk on the boardwalks. As he slogged through thick ankle deep mud he would hear shouts all along the way of, “You filthy ****ing blood-sucking Kike Jew bastard.” And mud and stones would be flung at him or someone might knock him down and kick him. Then he would be punished for being late or dirty and bloody, and he would still have to fulfill his work quota for the day, without his nightly food or water ration.
The name calling also went the other way. Between themselves the prisoners spoke and thought of the GPU and the guards in the same foul language. Especially hated guards were taunted whenever a prisoner thought they could get away with it. Of course they might get shot, but they could also be pushed beyond endurance.
Very few did not participate in this language distortion. And both sides were dehumanized and destroyed by the use of such language. Every person in the camps became hardened against their perceived enemies, and also hated themselves as they lost their souls and any goodness they once had.
ARE WE IN THE SAME BOAT TODAY? There are terms no one wants used against them: racist, sexist, homophobe, whatever seems hurtful, and these terms are often used with other frightful language attached. Political Correctness is the very base of this pillar. Those who speak truth become outcasts.
Second Pillar – PROTECTION: Prisoners with some money coming in would find a protector, a prisoner with access to what they needed, actual physical protection or other necessities, and bribe them for getting it. The protector would watch over a whole group of prisoners who could pay him a monthly sum plus money for their needs. The protector would set up a separate system to be over those who would steal or otherwise appropriate what was needed, then pay them a small amount for the item and resell it for a higher amount. He also paid the person over him protection money and then both bought and sold to him. Thus it was a case of back scratching all up and down the line. The camp commandant received the best of everything and he and his cronies lived pretty high on the hog.
The GPU allowed the system to flourish, and even used their own monetary system of GPU scrip within the camps. At the bottom of the heap were the political and religious prisoners with no resources or friends. They were simply starved and worked to death and cast aside. There were plenty more where they came from.
IS THE SECOND PILLAR ALIVE AND WELL IN THE US TODAY? Crony Capitalism, Wall Street, special favors in Congress, payoffs to the bureaucrats and President? Everyone can see the graft and corruption at the highest levels and all down the line.
Third Pillar – DENUNCIATION: All prisoners were expected to constantly spy and inform on each other. True or obviously false denunciations, it didn’t matter, either meant torture or death to the denounced. Some denunciations were coerced by the higher powers who wanted to get rid of a rival or an unwelcome type of prisoner. Other denunciations were just malicious and some were meant to deflect attention from some misdeed on the part of the denouncer. Spies within the camp were paid for information. Keeping anything secret was almost impossible.
PILLAR THREE TODAY – Just breathe wrong and find out if we have denunciation going on in our land. And think about the fate of anyone ostracized from his familiar group, or fired from his job after slipping up in any way.
By setting every one at each other’s throats a constant supply of slave labor was kept available for the GPU, which in turn propped up the Soviet state with cash, food and goods and deniability abroad that such slave labor existed.
The above three pillars did not apply to the criminals within the camp. They were allowed to terrorize the political prisoners at will. If they escaped they were quietly left free.
THE REAL FOUNDATIONS – TORMENT AND HOPELESSNESS.
Why were those phony confessions so important? It was necessary for the Soviets to get rid of their enemies, all the while saying they had freely confessed so that the regime seemed blameless to outsiders.
Let’s say Comrade Ivan is a GPU recruit who needs to be trained to be heartless and ruthless, so he is told to get a confession from a prisoner at any cost. If he can’t do so, he himself might be arrested on wrecking charges. Both the GPU Officer and the prisoner are supposed to be under the Soviet Constitution and laws, so the appearance must be preserved. There must be a confession to show if someone from the outside inquires. NO BLAME MUST EVER ATTACH TO THE SUPREME LEADERS. (Oh, what could be said here!)
One of the most diabolical torments Tchernavin recounts is how the GPU would suddenly hold a general meeting of everyone in the camp and announce an amnesty of some sort. Maybe they would say that for every 5 days a prisoner met his work quota, 1 day would be removed from his sentence. And to show how kind and honest they could be, the amnesty was made retroactive, and 10 prisoners already qualified. The 10 men were given haircuts and new clothes, then quickly put on the train and sent home.
The remaining prisoners were jubilant and worked harder. Then someone’s wife would come for an allowed visit and quietly pass the word that of the men sent home, each was allowed only a few days or a week with his family and then was re-arrested and sent to another camp. The torment and hopelessness used against these people is staggering.
No one, no one in the camps, no one in society at large, was ever allowed to have a sense of hope, ever again. Everything is smoke and mirrors when the base and pillars of communism are established in a land.
Tchernavin’s wife also wrote a book of her life and tells the tale of their final escape. Vladimir Tchernavin was an extremely intelligent man who managed to maneuver a way of escape, for himself and his family. With miracles that could only come from God, he found freedom. • (2476 views)