Helene Celmina. Women in Soviet Prisons

I begin my book with a description of the Riga KGB for two reasons: First, readers familiar with The KGB prison in Moscow may think such a place exists only in Moscow. However, one should open a map of The U.S.S.R. and count the cities in Russia and in all the Soviet republics. In each city There is a KGB prison, known as the Cheka.

The KGB officials are known as Chekists. The term Chekist is not slang, but comes from the acronym of the "All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-revolution, Speculation, and Sabotage, "founded by Lenin and Dzerzhinsky. Each year thousands of Western tourists walk through Dzerhinsky Square and gaze in awe at the monument and square dedicated to this man. Few realize that Dzerzhinsky was responsible for millions of innocent deaths and that the large building on one side of the square houses the headquarters and main prison of the dreaded Cheka.

As a result The word Chekist is used by the Russians as an epithet, especially when the conversation turns to any evil or unpleasant subject.

The second reason I write about The Riga Cheka is because I became familiar with it after spending six months in a cell for The "crime" of having foreign literature in my apartment.

I want to emphasize that in Moscow and other large Russian cities, the Cheka is not as big a threat as in smaller, non-Russian republics. These provincial Chekists try to please their Russian masters through unlimited loyalty and industriousness in order to gain promotions, awards and medals. As a result, these non-Russian Chekists are overzealous, often arresting and imprisoning untold hundreds of innocent victims. Even if no "anti-Soviet" activity was planned, proof is impossible to establish, for the Cheka can easily claim that the "intent" was there.

All events are true; only a few names have been changed to protect those still alive.

Helene Celmina
September, 1982