Helene Celmina. Women in Soviet Prisons
Around noon the gates opened, and all the prisoners in the yard glanced up curiously. A nun in black garb appeared, then another one behind her, a teenager, her face barely visible behind a white kerchief. More black-garbed nuns followed, one after the other. All the newcomers took five or six steps, set down small bundles containing their personal belongings and stood together silently. All wore long skirts and the regulation capelike headdress hanging over the shoulders. At a distance, their black figures formed one compact mass. The white-kerchiefed teenager stood off by herself.
Usually, upon the arrival of a new inmate, everyone rushed forward to get acquainted. This time, nobody rushed to meet the new arrivals because we knew that the nuns were not sociable, and probably did not wish to talk. One woman went inside the barracks to tell the nuns in the camp that others had arrived. Immediately, several ran out and rushed across the yard to the newcomers. The fluttering black cloaks presented a strange sight. Because of their black robes and sedate movements, the nuns seemed old. Now however, one would have thought they had been promised a gold medal in a race. Judging from the greetings at the gate, these nuns evidently were old acquaintances reunited, after long separation.
One after another, the slower nuns gathered around, forming a large black crowd. Everyone wanted to get close to the new ones, to embrace each of them in turn and to kiss them again and again. Only the teenager remained separate.
While I watched uncomprehending Valentina Semjonovna joined me. She looked at the black group and then said, "They did come after all."
"Who came?" I asked.
"Well the nuns, don't you see?"
"I see they are nuns and they seem to be acquainted with our nuns."
"They are all from our camp."
"Where were they then?"
"Why they were in the Vladimir Prison of course! Didn't you know that some of our people are always in Vladimir?"
"I didn't realize that there were so many. I thought two, three at the most."
"There are always several nuns and a few others. Tatjana also sat in Vladimir for three years."
Valya came out of the building onto the porch, lit a cigarette, and after watching the doings at the gate, also hurried over. She approached the teenager. They embraced and came towards me, engaged in friendly conversation. When they both passed me, I saw that the teenager was no less than forty years old. It is always difficult to tell the age of women who have long been imprisoned.
Because of her slight build, light hair, and blue eyes, she appeared to be a teenager with an old face. Her blue eyes were innocent as a child's, but her tightly closed lips, with the lines deeply graven in the corners told of long suffering. Her yellow, mummified face testified to many years of Imprisonment. In the bright afternoon sun, her skin resembled yellow parchment carefully stretched over the skull. But for her prominent blue eyes, she looked dead. Her name was unusual like herself: Clara Kleiman. She wasn't Russian.
Looking at Clara, I was reminded of an old clock that has never been wound. Such a clock could be called both old and new. Clara's appearance suggested experience and self assurance. She was not one to establish contacts quickly or let herself be drawn into conversations with strangers. Clara never talked without need. In the living section of the barracks, she approached the bed in which she apparently had slept for several months and asked dryly, "Who is sleeping in this bed?" Clara sought the woman out and announced, in a voice that would entertain no objection, that she wished to occupy her old bed. The other woman, one of the religious prisoners who never resisted the desires of others, naturally acquiesced.
Then the superintendent of the camp told the woman about to take her bedclothes, "You stay where you are. Kleiman has to take the bed over there." She pointed to an empty bed in the middle of the room.
Clara gave the superintendent a contemptuous look and announced, "You can have that bed, Citizen Jailer."
The supervisor's face flushed a deep and angry red at such impudence. Barely controlling herself, yet in a pointedly polite tone she answered, "Prisoner Kleiman, you forget where you are. Perhaps I should remind you."
Clara, just as politely responded, "No, Citizen Jailer, I do not need your reminder, and if you don't like my looks, you can send me bark to Vladimir. At least I have peace there."
"We will see about that," replied the other, still aflame with anger.
Clara remained livid. "Just imagine, trying to tell me in which bed I should sleep! She can do that to someone who comes to visit the prison for a year or two, but not to someone who's spent half of her life here. This woman, who can't even wipe her own nose, has the nerve to touch me! I'd like to see her in a coffin wearing white slippers, this all-knowing supervisor. I need her like a hole in the head. She should go and wash her own feet instead." Clara had a point, the supervisor did have dirty feet.
While this incident occurred, the other woman stripped the bed and Clara started making herself at home. As Clara's bed was directly opposite mine I watched her get settled. Somewhere, she garnered her own sheets, which she fastened to the lower edge of the upper bunk, strung on a line like curtains.
Clara was ready to "live" in her bed. She had no intention of going to work. She sat in her bed for days on end. She embroidered with great patience and care. Her work was detailed, complicated, and so well executed that it appeared to be machine work. Once she pulled several finished pieces from her pillow to show me. I praised her work, but wondered where she got so many new sheets to cut up. The prison shop does not sell muslin, and there was no way to send her any from home to Vladimir Prison.
She was sent to Vladimir for the same offense as the nuns: refusing to work. On the days when Clara did not do needlework, she read books borrowed from the others. Often she read magazines, Science and Technology or Around the World. I did not ask why she was in prison because she was a moody person, and would not answer questions if she was in a had mood. From time to time Clara would get into a bad temper, climb into bed, and pull her sheet curtain shut. Nobody dared disturb he. She lay in her bed for days at a time. She came to the dining hall for meals, but returned to bed immediately.
The supervisor did not bother Clara, apparently feeling that she would only cause trouble for herself and the rest of the camp administration. Clara was left alone. Even though she refused to work, they did not put her in a punishment cell.
A woman once asked Clara why she did not go to work, "After all," she said, "it shortens the time, and one does not have to fear the cell."
Clara listened quitly and answered, "I am here to serve my sentence, not to increase the property of the state."
That was well said, but not everyone has the will to hold out for years against the rule. Much depends on one's personality. Most people need something to do during imprisonment. Some women have said publicly that they could not endure without work, and that they would probably kill themselves if the prisons took it away. Even Clara doesn't sit idly, as her fine stitching showed.
Days, weeks, and months passed, until one day important guests from Moscow arrived in camp #17-A. The local administrators explained that they were a commission from Moscow. The overseers ran around making sure there was no litter and that our zone was in order. Then they ran into the living section to make sure that the beds were nicely made and uncluttered. Seeing a cat curled up on one of the beds, an overseer grabbed a towel and swung at the cat which, in panic, ran for the window. On the windowsill was a pot with a bright red fuchsia blooming in it. Another overseer ran to open the door for the cat. It was too late. The pot lay in shards and the floor was strewn with dirt. Of course the few old women who happened to be near were told to clean it up.
First the visitors went to the work zone, then to the living section. Usually they stopped by the door, never entering the room. They looked, and passed on. This time would have been no different if Clara had not been present. She was, as usual, squatting in her nest. When the commission arrived, she came out on the porch. Seeing such a large group of officers in uniforms, Clara approached slowly as though taking a leisurely walk. When she reached the officers her slender figure appeared to shrink, since the men were tall and stout. Clara stopped in the middle of their path and smiled innocently in a friendly fashion. The inevitable happened, one of the unsuspecting officers glanced at her and asked how she was. Waiting for this opportunity she spoke so fluently that an observer might have thought that she memorized and rehearsed her speech. When one speaks the truth however, one does not need preparation; The truth comes out and wants to be heard by the ears of unbelievers.
Clara described in detail the conditions of the camp. She explained how we were robbed by the male criminals who cooked the meals, threw cigarette butts into the food, often spit, and even urinated into the soup. Once a piece of bicycle tire was found in the soup. She complained that the bread was heavy, bitterly sour, and soggy compared to that in other camps. Clara explained that these disgraces were reported to our administration, which smiled, did nothing and intended to do nothing. She asked who was in charge of food and insisted that these disgraces be eliminated. Clara recited these grievances in a loud voice so that everyone could hear.
Listening with obvious distaste, the visitors could do little since Clara stood in their way. Nobody could interrupt Clara's flow of words, but as soon as she stopped to draw a breath, the supervisor hastened to explain and assure everyone that Clara was exaggerating. Again this-opportunity was what Clara was waiting for. A tornado followed as she poured forth years of bitterness. Words rushed over her lips like water tumbling over the dam. Long experience taught her what to say, and she defended the minimal rights of these imprisoned women with knowledge and skill. In reference to the food problem, Clara recited verbatum the rations legislated for each person per day. She also explained to the commission why the camp administration permitted the male criminals of the neighboring zone to steal from the women of camp #17-A. Eighty percent of the prisoners in camp #17-A were condemned for religious activity. Knowing that these women would never lodge any complaints anywhere, the administration shamelessly exploited the situation, to exorcise their faith in God through hunger. Clara stressed that the administration hated religious prisoners and employed the most inhuman methods against them.
The rest, the non-religious prisoners, amounted to only twenty percent, half of whom we e old women who would never complain about the local administration, especially since many of them did not know how to write. If any of the others tried to complain about the conditions, they received no response. If they had been political prisoners, Clara emphasized, the camp administration would have been compelled to accede to their demands according to written law.
Clara was right; each word was a strong accusation. Beyond fear, she defended strongly the prisoner's rights. Several times, she stressed that the times had passed when the prisoner had no rights and could be dealt with as the administration chose. If anyone doubted her words, he could look at the wall in the section where the rules of the prisons and camps were framed under glass. "There," Clara pointed in the direction of our barracks, "it is all there, black on white, in clear Russian-what we may do, and what we may not, what are your rights, and what are ours."
The visitors edged toward the exit. Clara pursued them, never letting the distance between herself and the guests diminish. She saw them to the gate, accusing them uninterruptedly of being the greatest violators of the law, of imprisoning innocent people who had never harmed anyone, and who were serving time because of their faith or their convictions. At last the visitors reached the gate, and one after another disappeared into the guard house. Even when they were outside the fence, Clara continued to speak. As they disappeared she added that they ought to be Imprisoned. The women praised Clara for her true and accurate remarks. Suddenly, Clara exploded at them, "And you, you all stood there as though the cat got your tongues. When the administration can't hear, you moan and groan, but when you should speak, you clam up. What am I, a salaried defender?"
Now their mouths were shut, too. They wanted no quarrel with Clara. After the excitement of her speech, Clara's mood improved. I admired this tiny woman whose pointed and exact complaints forced a whole crowd of officers to retreat. She literally drove them out of the zone. Her last words at the gate were, "You have no business here if you don't want to or cannot Improve our conditions."
This incident confirmed my earlier supposition that Clara had a lot of experience. A few days later, I expressed my admiration for her judgment of the illegalities in the camp. Clara remarked that this was not her first encounter and that the prison laws were as familiar to her as the A-B-Cs. Clara had already served twenty-three years of a twenty-five year sentence. Thirty-nine now, she was arrested at fifteen-and-a-half. Though her mother and daughter, who was born in prison, lived outside in Yalta, no one had written to Clara in twenty-two years.
"Because my mother is a doctor and wanted to continue working as one, she was forced to renounce me. From then on, we have had no contact. I am grateful to her for taking my little girl because otherwise she would have gone to the orphanage, and we all know what grows up there."
"What you are saying is tragic. In the past they have forced people to renounce undesirable family members, but relatives are no longer persecuted for transgressions of their kin. I think you would have difficulty finding a family in which someone has not been imprisoned. It is so common that people speak about it openly."
"What you say is true, but my mother does not write to me." A human being can get used to anything. Do you want to hear something really terrible?" Clara grinned conspiringly. "When I was twenty I was in Kalima. Men and women worked together cutting timber in the woods. Three men prepared to escape and promised to take me along if I wanted to join them. Of course, I said yes. We hoarded as much dried bread as we could hide under our clothing. A shortage of bread in the camps at that time made it difficult to save up a small supply to take along. On the appointed day we escaped. At first e walked day and night, through taiga. On the fourth day our food was gone. We went two days without eating hoping to find something but there was nothing in the taiga. Finally we decided we had no choice but to draw lots with matches to see who would be eaten. The match pointed at me. We were silent, then the organizer of the escape stood up and announced, 'We are real men, and we will not eat our only woman. We are going back to camp, there is no other way.' Because it was the law to obey the eldest, we returned to camp. It took us ten days to cover the same ground that previously took six. The return journey was so horrible, it cannot be described. There were no roads, and weakened as we were, our feet kept getting caught on clumps of grass. We were at the end of our strength when we reached camp, stumbling, bruised and scratched."
The "who's going to eat whom" part of Clara's story gave me a cold shiver, and I wondered what kind of people could say such words. Later I heard from Clara and others of numerous cases where two escapees took a third along, as a 'bow," previously marked for food, of course without his knowledge.
Clara continued, "We didn't get much punishment because we returned voluntarily. Even the hardest heart felt pity at the sight of us. Each received sixty days and sixty nights of solitary. The cell would have been restful if the approach of winter had not made the unheated cells cold at night. My only salvation was my hair. I loosened my long braids and wrapped myself in my hair and felt halfway warm. My legs and feet were cold but I thought of the poor men who had no long hair at all."
After Clara's tale, I could not sleep. I still didn't know why she was in prison. Because her story about Kalima could only refer to the criminal prisoners, she appeared to be a criminal prisoner later condemned for a political offense. No matter who or what she was, I felt a certain respect for her.
The regard that the others felt for Clara was due to her independent attitude toward the camp administration. She hadn't lost her feisty attitude through her many years of imprisonment. This was especially striking because criminal prisoners usually came to accept the prison administration, in order to gain its good will and material compensation, tea. The criminal prisoners literally idolize tea, for which they are willing to carry out all the administration's orders and even work all night. Tea was more valuable to them than cigarettes. From this tea, they make a narcotic drink, Chifir, brewing forty grams of black tea to each half liter of water.
Though our beds were opposite each other, several weeks passed before I had a chance to speak to Clara. She was in no mood for conversation. Like a little girl, she played with the cat which she trained to sleep in her bed. Flattered by the attention, the cat gladly remained around Clara's bed. When Clara went out, she wound the cat around her neck, like a fur boa. The cat enjoyed curling around Clara's neck.
Cats often arrived in the zone by "air mail," when the residents of the surrounding area, wanting to be rid of their kittens, threw them over the high barbed wire fence. Many a kitten was injured in its flight over the fence. These were adopted with loving care by the cat lovers, and they quickly improved. Like the human prisoners, the camp cats were unassuming. They made do with what their mistresses took away from their own mouths. Once in a while there would he fish soup for supper. The cat owners ate their soup but picked out the small pieces of fish for their little darlings. Clara did that and he cat's black fur glistened. Occasionally the cat, looking for a change jumped into my bed to sleep. Then immediately Clara scolded him and transferred him to her own bed, so badly did she long for something of her own.
One day, unexpectedly, Clara sat down beside me. I was sitting in the sun, knitting. She asked me to let her inspect the pattern. I gladly showed it to her, and she expressed a desire to learn to knit. I said I would be happy to teach her. During these times together, we talked about recent events. We discussed the administration's campaign against cats, and I told Clara about the spotted tomcat Istihrej who clawed the supervisor's arms and legs when she stuffed him into a sack. The administration did not like Istihrej's constant loud meowing so they decided to wreak vengeance upon all cats. The prisoners delighted to see their pets disappear as soon as the cat catchers, the supervisor and the two overseers, arrived. Only Istihrej was caught. The poor creature was pushed into a sack, carried to the gate and given to the soldiers of the guard to beat to death. The dead cat was carried back into the tone to serve as a warning. Istihrej had been the pride and joy of Grandma Petrovna who fed the tom for three years and grew quite attached to him. Now great tears rolled down the old woman's cheeks. When the cat had been buried and the mourners left, a young female cat named Musja sat by the lonely grave for a long time. Only a few months later the soldiers caught and tortured her to death.
We spoke of other topics besides cats. "Once before you said that your mother lost two at once, you and your brother. Where is your brother now?"
"We were tried at the same time. My brother got a death sentence. I got twenty-five years."
"And you think your brother was shot?"
"Yes, of course, what else?"
An uncomfortable silence ensued. Neither of us could find the right words to continue. Suddenly Clara spoke. "My brother was older than I, so all the responsibility for the crimes fell on him. I was a minor then, and nobody listened to me."
"They did not listen, but they gave you twenty-five years."
"Ah, yes. Everybody got long sentences in 1941. The war started, they needed officers, and here we were killing them off. It all began much earlier " Clara recollected. During the Great Purge of Stalin in 1937 they shot my father. He was a gifted scientist, often sent abroad to participate in conferences. I was only eleven when he was shot, my brother was five year older. I will never forget that day. When mother told us, my brother and I went upstairs to father's room and locked the door. My brother took a photograph of our father out of his desk drawer. Striking a solemn pose, he raised two fingers toward the ceiling and recited some words then made me raise my fingers and repeat what he had said. It was an oath that we would avenge our father. Then I did not fully understand. One day, four years later, my brother asked, 'Do you remember our oath? Now is the time to do something about it.' In the evening, when it began to grow dark, we quietly left the house. My brother explained that it was his duty to kill certain officers whom he heard were to blame in our father's death. Several evenings, we wandered the same streets searching for them. About a week later, a drunken officer stumbled from one of the houses. My brother ordered me to stay on the street to warn him of approaching danger.
He followed the officer whom he identified and stabbed to death. We found the next one a few days later, but in his hurry and excitement, my brother only wounded him. He survived. The court sentenced by brother to death but took pity on me as a minor, giving me twentyfive years and placing me in a camp for minors."
Engrossed in the tragic story of Clara's family I had not noticed the approach of a thunderstorm. The dark cloudy sky underlined the sense of catastrophe. I gave an involuntary start at the first flash of lightning and roar of thunder. Clara and I went into the dining hall as the raindrops started to fall. It was an hour until dinnertime and no one was in the hall. We sat on a bench by the window in silence, then I asked, "But was your case considered political?"
"No, it was a common criminal case. I was sentenced under the political paragraph five years ago."
"How long were you in the minor's camp?"
"As long as my age allowed. When I turned sixteen, they sent me to Kalima. Others without papers gave the wrong age and remained with the minors."
"Is it better there?"
"You bet! The food is better, half a glass of milk a day."
"Now I hear you are considered a minor till eighteen."
"That was true then also, but my long sentence was why they sent me sooner. actually, I escaped from prison twice. The second time, I made it and spent almost half a year on the outside."
Our conversation continued, and Clara told me of her second escape attempt.
"That time, I escaped alone. I was on a transport, and jumped from a moving train in Uzbekistan. An old Uzbek woman took me in. She was lonely, took pity on me, and treated me like a daughter. I will never forget her. I was free for six months."
"How did you get out of the train? Didn't they guard you?"
"Yes and no. The cage in which they were transporting me had a damaged lock which I managed to open."
"You said you were free for half a year. How come they found you later, if they couldn't do it within the first month? I thought the most intensive search takes place immediately after an escape."
"That's what I thought too, but it turned out differently."
"I couldn't be on the old woman's back the whole time. I needed food and clothing which I had to look for. I was careful, waiting for twilight, but what can you do if the local inhabitants have been warned? And especially when they all know each other within a radius of hundreds of kilometers. In this village the people never change. They all know each other's family tree way back. The old woman lived in the furthest corner of the village. I could not show myself in the village at all."
"How did they find you?"
"I decided that it was time to look for another place to live, farther away. I went to the railroad station. That's where they got me. Recognized my snout immediately." She said the last words in a challenging tone.
"Clara, don't be angry, but perhaps you could tell me how you acquired a daughter. You told me that your mother took her in. If I understood correctly, your daughter was born in prison."
"That's a long story," Clara replied unwillingly.
"You can make it shorter," I suggested.
"In Kalima, when I was barely sixteen they transferred me from the minor's to the adult camp. They took me to one of the largest camps in Kalima with several thousand prisoners. There everything was controlled by the thieves, the administration had no say whatsoever. Their main concern was to guard us and get us to work. That's where I got married."
"What do you mean, married?" I exclaimed. "You don't mean to tell me that you had a marriage registry in camp!"
"A marriage of thieves was the law there, and that's enough."
"Who was your groom?"
"He was the ataman of the camp thieves. A 'cossack chieftain."'
"That sounds altogether romantic," I smiled.
"Romantic? There was so much romance it would make your hair stand on end. Imagine, it was only my second week in camp. Every morning there was a check in the work zone when everybody lined up, men on one side of the road, and women on the other. The overseers on duty made the rounds. All of a sudden, a big, burly fellow stepped out of the men's lineup and approached us, his eyes flaming. All of us sensed trouble. We all held our heath as he came to the women's side and stopped in front of one woman. She was as beautiful as a fairy princess. Seeing him, the beauty went white as chalk. He came up close to her and said, 'Get what you have coming bitch!' and with one lunge cut her throat. The beautiful woman fell backwards into the sand. As she fell her blood splashed those nearby. Panic erupted."
"And what did the man do?"
"He bent over his victim and closed her eyes which had remained open. Then he said in a hushed voice, 'Forgive me, dear!' and returned to his place in the lineup as though nothing had happened. He stood there and waited."
"And the overseers, what did they do?"
"They came, counted us, looked at the woman on the ground, and left."
"Didn't they say anything?"
"What was there to say? That was not the worst they had seen. Every so often someone would be launched into eternity."
"But they must have found out why he did it."
"There was nothing to find out. She had been his wife and was caught being unfaithful, not with another prisoner hut with the chief of the operating division. According to the law of the thieves, that is an unforgiveable offense, punishable by death. If he had not killed her, he would have lost face. This was more than a matter of thieves' traditions. In the corrective labor camps of the Soviet Union, the prisoners' greatest hatred is directed at the chiefs of-the operating divisions who recruit informers. They threaten people of weak character and ones with minor offenses, in order to get them to inform on others."
"And then, what happened?"
"Nothing. The commander and the doctor came, ordered the corpse carried off, wrote a protocol, and scratched the dead woman's name off the records."
"I wasn't asking about that. What did they do about the ataman?"
"Oh, they called a trial and sentenced him to additional years for committing the crime in camp. Otherwise everything was the same."
"And he can go on murdering?"
"Sure, why not?"
"I guess people like him can only get out by escaping."
"That's true. About a week later, at dinnertime, we used to eat in three shifts then, I'm eating. That thug who did his wife in comes to my table and says, 'Little one, you're to be my wife now."'
"Weren't you scared?"
"I was petrified. In the evening I told the older women. All of them, as one, persuaded me to accept and say nothing. I received all kinds of advice. In the end, I submitted to my fate. I was not independent in those days, others did my thinking for me."
"Well I suppose you could say that this proposal was an honor."
"The older women said it was a great honor for me. A wedding day was set. The wedding took place in the men's barracks. 'They had food and even vodka. I guess it was like a real wedding. I wouldn't know since I've never been to a wedding" Clara commented simply.
"What did the administration do?"
"They had no business sticking their noses into such things, or there could be blood. On such occasions, they pretend to see nothing."
"How old was your husband?"
"He was thirty-two then."
"Twice as old as you. And how long did you celebrate this prison wedding?"
"It was a Sunday. We started in the morning and by the evening the party was over."
"And did you see each other much after the wedding?"
"We saw each other every day in the work zone. Once he came up to me and said, 'Don't go in to dinner, wait for me by the fireman's barrel.' He met me there, then walked ahead and made me follow. He took me to a corner where manure was piled next to the stables. There were several piles of manure with lots of space in between them. There he ordered me, 'Lie down!' My wedding night' was spent in the manure, at twelve noon. Frightened, I understood little of what was happening. All I knew was that I better do what I was told. He never talked to me, just issued orders. I realize how innocent I was. At home, they never spoke about marriage or childbirth. I didn't even know I was pregnant. When I felt something moving in my belly, I went to the medical center for hookworm medicine. They gave it to me, no questions asked. More and more often I went for the worm medicine because the movement in my belly was getting stronger. My stomach was getting bigger and bigger with the 'hookworm,' but the medicine did no good. I worried about worms until the day my daughter was born."
"Surely the medics and the doctors must have seen that you were expecting a child."
"I suppose they did, but they used my ignorance. Otherwise, they would have had to release me from hard labor from the sixth month on and give me extra rations. They never gave them to me."
"Then you must have given birth in the camp, not even in the hospital."
"Right there, in the camp medical center."
"And your husband, what about him?"
"I never saw him again because they took me and the child to a mother's camp. Then, after my mother took the little girl, I was brought to the Kemerov District."
"In all this time, you've never heard about him?"
"Oh, yes. I know that he was stupidly killed in a brawl with a knife."
"How do you know for sure that it was he?"
"His nickname was well known among the thieves. I heard from several sources."
"You have a grown up daughter. Would you like to see her?"
"Of course. Does she want to see me, is the question. She is being brought up differently. I don't even know if she has been told who her mother is or even if I exist. What do I have in common with either my mother or my daughter, both fine ladies? My mother is a doctor, and my daughter is probably at a university too."
These forlorn last sentences made me regret my nosiness. A mother's feelings do not wither but burgeon in bard times. Clara's life was so crippled that she must start completely anew. But how? A girl of a good and educated family, she became mixed up with thieves and murderers at sixteen, spent her adolescence among them and learned to view life through their eyes. Their laws and morality and hatreds became Clara's. Who was to blame? Circumstances? The system? If Clara's father lived, Clara would not have spent twenty-five years in prison, and her brother would not have been condemned to death.
Brother and sister did not kill from evil and depravity, but from vengeance. They did not touch the pockets of the officers they killed. They wanted nothing but to avenge their father as they swore as children. Their mistake was not to have talked to their mother or some other adult who could have stopped them. They rushed like crickets into the ashes, and one of them had to burn.
As an adolescent, Clara did not know the value and substance of life, but swam with the current into which she had fallen. As the wife of the ataman, she gained self respect. Perhaps her naive intelligence urged Clara in the later years to find out about life beyond the camp fences.
At times, one was amazed that, imprisoned for twenty-four years, she learned so much. In middle age, she received an added sentence under the clause of anti-Soviet agitation, because she occupied herself too much with politics and incited the other prisoners against the Soviet order. In the last four years, Clara turned to religion. In the Vladimir Prison she met revivalist who explained the gospels and the existence of God to her. Clara listened with rapture. Faith in God gave Clara's tortured soul balance. After serving twenty-five years, Clara was released in the fall of 1966. I know nothing further of her life.