BESSARABIA, MY LOVE

SURVIVING SIBERIA

TEMA PENTRU ACASĂ

– EXCERPT –

IX

By NICOLAE DABIJA                         In English by DR. NICHOLAS ANDRONESCO

 

 

Colonel Kudreavtzev

 

„The servant starts to do a service for you even before understanding what service is all about.”

René Descartes

The camp chief, Kudreavtzev, was a short man, red, with a round face like erased with an eraser, whose features you could not remember the moment of not seeing him, even though before that you had looked at he a few years. This may leave an impression, and because when he spoke, no one looked in his direction. For detainees it was more interesting to look at the tip of their own boots, buttons from clothing, cracked and callused hands, horizon, clouds above , he mountains in the distance.

However, the man-without-face was full of big ambitions.

In his „preaching,” that the way his speeches were called when the detainees were going to work every morning, he often talked about the beneficial role of the prison system:

– Prison, he said as a dreamer, is a window through which we look to the future. The prison influences the man under moral aspect.  For a healthy society, it is necessary that every member of it to go even for a short period of time through these schools to  physical and moral tempering the citizen. Certainly,we would then have an ideal society.

Prison is a university of life. Here the man learns to live in collective, through the collective, with the collective. Here the people should obligatory be recycled. The man humanization should pass first through his dehumanization. The cold, hunger, fear, misery, terror from prisons toughen and make him to feel that the cold, hunger, fear of society to seem to be beneficial to him. And a turnkey is the conscience of a nation. Its purifier. The prison is one that helps us to free you from the laziness, pride and all that makes a man no-man.

. The prison becomes an ideal ground to eradicate evil. And the good can only triumph in battle with evil, isn’t it? For this, those over 50 000 prisons in the country serve. Without these, the man would lose not only the sense of the great époque, but also that of own self.

– If you put his mind one on a scale, Mendelstam used to say about the prison commander, would be lighter than nothing…

Kudreavtzev had it all: discourses, power, wealth, slaves. He only has a lack of imagination.
However, the Colonel was a man of fine tastes: he put his prisoners to march in columns like in a parade when they went to the cafeteria, to work, to walk. Before exhausting work of 12 hours in the area in the morning he set a quarter-hour for gym. „An inmate must have healthy body,” he used to say to the dying men. He created dance circles for rehearsals after work, from which no one could dodge. He dreamed also to have an opera as the „Severlag”, where all leading soloists from the Bolshoi Theater had been imprisoned.

When going to the working areas he urged them to singing mobilizing couplets. In the evening, when the brigade came back, crawling tired, he was upset if couldn’t hear the song from far. He greeted the new prisoners with fanfare.

And he led the dead to the common grave with music by Tchaikovsky, played by a symphony orchestra cobbled together in the camp.

 

– This ritual was held every few days, because the rest of the time musicians were working together with other prisoners to cut wood or carrying stones.

„Too bad that the dead cannot hear how solemn we are going with them on their last way. They could enjoy it, the poor…” he muttered sympathetically.

For that, he faithfully served his country; he dreamed to an order, to a medal even a small one. But they didn’t arrive yet.

– Maybe, after centuries, this prison will be called with my name. He dreamed, in front of very many detainees, and wiped an imaginary tear from the corner of his eye.

Every Sunday, Kudreavtzev gatherer his prisoners in his cultural home to teach educational lessons about the new man.

– Ask me questions, he urged them. Come on, academicians, laureates, theologians ask me whatever you don’t know, and then I’ll teach you. Look, you, the philosopher! he addressed to Mendelstam. I hear that you’ve written a few books. And then, how the hell can you people be so stupid?

He hated intellectuals:

– I stutter when I talk, but you stutter on paper. Thing much more serious. Because my stutter is taken by wind, but yours stay. I write little, but any signature of mine decides the fate of thousands. What do you decide with your writing?! Who is going to be incarcerated by your writing, who pull it off, to whom bestows life and who bestows death?

Sometimes he became dreamer:

– Hm! If I could have here my fifth grade math teacher, what would I show him now how equals is a2 + b2.

Kudreavtzev had a great pleasure to reprove on academics, writers, scholars known all over the world:

– You people, you have the murder in you. You have born murderers.

Then, he began to explain neither what they could not or didn’t want to understand nor no how:

– We want to change our country from foundations. With all the foundations. The likes of you who have defiled them with the teaching will be isolated as dangerous elements. What cannot be controlled should be prohibited and eliminated. Man must learn how to think, he has to be learned what to think. And you’re not good at it. Your writings discourage even the dead. But we need mobilizing works for living. It’s a shame to use bullets with you. Prisons reeducate, they form strong convictions. We do not need many, but one with edges that coincide with the edges of the country.

But first we must clean our present of any past, religion of any God and history of any kings and emperors, to remain in it the proletariat alone. Just so we can straighten the world. With pickaxe, shovel and spade. The work turned the monkey into man. Now, the pickaxe follows to make the man as God. In this new world, we have to separate the old from new. The suggestion in  which the waters are separated of the earth with the rod doesn’t work here. Right here the waters have to be hit with the cudgel. Why that stammered old man, Moses, when he went through the Red Sea, baptized waters, not because it was a sea of blood? Maybe he, like us, did not have more time to separate the good from evil with the knife. They were intertwined, living together like Siamese twins. He hit them together, hoping that the good cannot die all and the evil cannot win all. So, the ideological struggle sharpens … He said and made a break, as he could  heard from far some gunshots, and then continued:

– What I tell you is not accessible to you, not because you are stupid, but because you have another cut…

Here, the Colonel lowered his voice as if he was going to share a great mystery:

– Our country is in a constant state of war … Now we are in war with the most dangerous enemy. And because it can be harder to detect. Unbelievably, last week he was bent, hard to guess where, even in the party Politburo. We fight with people like you, bourgeois intellectuals, who have to be  isolated, our state being the first in the world to have established a classless society.

To this, Mendelstam commented in whisper:

– Even those, without classes, lead it.

To Kudreavtzev, the freedom seemed as a hooliganism, a trick against common sense and the world outside concentration camps showed to he as a captive.

He wished to leave to his detainees the impression of a human wolf who have to take care of inhumane sheep.

In mornings, he walked through the front of columns with his heavy gun dangled from the hip, pulling he down. He had an achy head from the drunk vodka on the eve day, bought with the money stolen from the cafeteria from the prisoners’ foods. He confessed them:

– Do you know what’s my biggest flaw? Goodness. It’ll shove me in grave. My personal drama is that I was invested with a gun just so I do not ever use it. But I would like to shoot from it so even a sample. But I’m afraid if I start shooting, I could not stop until its last bullet to the last prisoner. Because none of you deserve mercy. You, all of you are full of sins like sheep full of thistles, sons of bitches! He address it angry. Listen carefully what I am saying to you, otherwise, you’ll remain stupid as in the first day of prison.

Another time he said them:

– I’m at your disposal:  your supervisor, your client, your servant! Sometimes, he inquired and about the living conditions of prisoners:

– It was reported that you’re doing well. That you don’t have any complaint …

One day Bobrov, worksite chief, the best Brigadier, dared to submit him a grievance of his employees , who could not meet the norm of reason that they always worked being starved:

– Yes, we have no complaints. Everything is fine. Even very well. We would just like to add a little bread … because we’re starving …

They were all amazed by the boldness of Bobrov, because he was a scoundrel.

Kudreavtzev looked to him like a hawk that targeted the the prey.

Bobrov felt like an itchy dog that has bitten and now expects to be punished. He expected kicks, decrepitation of whip as a reward for the courage to snarl to the master.

– You, lad?! You that have fattened as an ox since you are in camp … You are hungry?!

– Sorry …  excuse me, please …

– You see! He gently said. You’re lucky that I’m good. Kudreavtzev said so and handed him his hand to kiss it.

Bobrov fell to his knees and kissed his arm as to a priest.

Then, Kudreavtzev turned to face the other detainees and said in a conciliatory tone:

– I understand you. But you, you, no matter how much you’re ate, you’re still hungry. Keep in your mind, you didn’t come here to overeat. I’m sorry, but I cannot give you more bread. Because if I’ll give you bread, you’ll also ask butter. And if you’ll have butter, you’ll also want vodka. And if I’ll give you bread, butter and vodka, then you’ll claim that I’ll also give you women. And that’s what I’m not supposed to do.

Kudreavtzev was appreciated by the central bodies for that he executes timely all indications.

But only the detainee muscles knew how.

According to the program, the „Wake up” call was at 5:00AM.

But at certain times of the year, when the aurora borealis turned night into day, the due date of the commissioning plan of one or another objective was not met, and the control could come momentarily. Then Kudreavtzev  gave hidden orders about the clock, the only clock mounted on the administration building, to be fixed two hours earlier the morning and two hours later the evening. Since no one knew the real time, detainees were not allowed to wear the watch, the 12 hour working day turned into 16.  To all these were added the two-hour journey to and from the worksite, plus an hour of housework, gym time, the morning call and evening one  before „lights out,” and another one at noon. So, they had remained for sleeping less than three, at most four hours.

This short time had to be enough to rebuild their forces.

In the camp, Kudreavtzev liked to play God.

He was a big amateur of show.

A few years ago, when the group of Trotskyites joined the hunger strike, Kudreavtzev immediately came to their barracks:

– You, you’re able to kill yourself in the group as whales. What the hell made you hate so much life! What could convince you that it’s still beautiful! Maybe just a bullet in the head … Why do not respect yourself, scoundrel! How do you want that others to respect you? What do you want?

– To talk to a member of the Politburo.

– Why only one? Kudreavtzev wondered. I will call all of them. They have to have a meeting away. They just are your battle fellows, isn’t it?

Few days later, Stalin, Zhdanov, Kalinin, Yagoda, Beria arrived to Zarianka to discuss with the Trotskyites rebels.

Prisoners were enthusiastic, exchanging views on matters of state, theorizing about permanent revolution. They were launching suggestions that would bring closer the victory of world revolution, were proposing how to improve the proletarian socialism science.

Only towards the end of the debate, when Stalin flattering raised the pencil fell down from the Kudreavtzev hand, the latter behaving himself as a member of the Politburo, prisoners realized that it was a simulacrum.  They were just some former great actors in the detainees’ theatrical troupe, grimaced and dressed in military uniform or in civilian who played as members of the Politburo.

Then the  querulous were descended in uranium mines, where they disappeared one by one. But Kudreavtzev even now was smiling , remembering that symposium as one of the greatest achievements of his life.

– It’s a pleasure to sit backstage and watch as the scene unfolds. He always repeated the words of an old filmmaker, who dreamed to stage Hamlet into the Zarianka underground.

Kudreavţev had traits of a tired Caesar, who had conquered an empire and did not know what to do with it.

One day the Colonel began his political lesson in a special way:

– Today I come to talk about happiness.

The philosophers became curious. Those who aspired to understand the universe became careful. And Mendelstam slipped between his teeth:

– From where did he find out what the mankind didn’t know for thousands of years in its history?

But Kudreavtzev thought otherwise:

– Happy is the only that who is afraid of everything.

– Then, that who steals from our supplies of potatoes is a hopelessly unhappy, Mendelstam sadly concluded. He has no fear of the prison leadership, nor of us, nor of God. But who’s to say him to fear, that himself to be happy?

– Man will come out of here spiritually renewed, Kudreavtzev concluded, only after he will live all his fear.

For him, fear was another synonym for life. While, in the concept of „circle of philosophers”, it was just another synonym for death.

When the prison commandant spoke, the prisoners usually were silent as corpses.

And only when he finished, Bobrov, the foreman, the Brigadier of Brigadiers jumped militarily before him, arms tight against the side seam of the pants, and chanted, humiliated, with great diligence:

– On your orders, Comrade Commander!

And Kudreavtzev answered every time with his cracked voice like a boiler that fell on asphalt:

– You, I order you to be happy!

And he withdrew to its administrative offices with satisfaction of the accomplished work.

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