I Speak for the Silent Prisoners of the Soviets - V. Tchernavin

The "Conveyor"

There were many men whom I came across later who had not only undergone the tortures of the "lice" cell but also those of the "conveyor." One of these was a former bank employee, a Jew, about forty-five years old, but in appearance much older. His hair was quite gray, he was bent and walked with difficulty.

"I had no gray hair when I was arrested," he said. "Half a year at the Shpalernaya and thirty days at the Gorokhovaya and look at me now; I'm an old man—gray hair, sore legs—"

"From the 'lice' cell?" I interrupted.

"The 'lice' cell is comparatively nothing," he continued. "It's fearful, it's terrible, but it's not the 'conveyor.'"

"Just what is the 'conveyor'?" I asked.

"The 'conveyor?' Well imagine if you can a torture so terrible that if they ask you to cut off your arm you cut it off. That's what the 'conveyor' is like.

"Picture for yourself a group of about forty prisoners, men and women, all worn out, hungry, eaten by lice, suffering with swollen legs from long standing—people who have not slept for many nights. Single file we were led into a big room with three or four desks, and at each desk was an examining officer. Then comes another room and more examining officers, a corridor, stairs and more rooms with examining officers. At the command 'at a run' we had to run from one desk to another. And as we approached each desk the examining officer would start shouting at us in the vilest language imaginable. They used their foulest swearing on us Jews. They would hurl their most obscene oaths at us and shriek, 'Kike, scum—Give up your money! I'll run you to death! Give it up!—You won't? Get along, you son of a bitch. Do you want to feel my stick?' And he would swing his stick across the table.

"In front of me ran a woman, a dentist, a most respectable person. She was not so young, about forty, heavy and in ill health. She gasped for breath and could hardly keep on running. They shouted at her in the foulest language, enumerating every sexual perversion imaginable. The poor woman kept on running, would fall down, be picked up and roughly pushed from one desk to another. She was screaming: 'I swear that I have no gold, I swear! I would gladly have given it all to you, but I haven't got it. What can I do if I haven't got it?' And still they shouted their oaths at her. Some examining officers shout so strenuously that they finally lose their voices and can only shake their fists and threaten with their sticks and revolvers."

"Well, and then?"

"Then, they keep on running. Running round and round again.

"But there must be an end to it?"

"The end? The end is when the person falls down and can't get up any more. He is shaken, lifted up by the shoulders, beaten on the legs with a stick, and if he can he runs again, if not—he is taken back to the 'lice' cell and the next day it's the 'conveyor ' again for him.

"This sort of torture lasts for from ten to twelve hours. Examining officers go away to rest; they get tired sitting and shouting obscenities and so are relieved by others, but the prisoners have to keep on running. And yet there are some people who won't give up their money at once. They know all about the 'conveyor ' but still won't give it up. It is not until they have run for several days, have lost consciousness, have come to and been forced to run some more that they surrender. At first I was angry to think that it was because of such stubborn people that the use of the 'conveyor ' continued, but I soon learned that they were the clever ones, at least very often."

"But I don't understand," said one of us.

"You don't understand," he smiled sadly. "Well, at first I didn't. You see, one has to know how  to give up money to the GPU so as not to suffer more. Let's assume that they are demanding 10,000 roubles of you and that you have exactly this sum. What should you do? If you agree to give up this 10,000, then the examining officer thinks that you probably have more—maybe 15,000 or 20,000. So he takes your 10,000, puts you in the 'lice' cell, then sends you to the 'conveyor ' and demands 5,000 roubles more. And how can you convince him that you haven't got it? You might die on the 'conveyor' but you can't give away what you haven't got. And so, in order to convince the examining officer that you are depriving yourself of your all, of something which is as vital as life itself, you must endure torture, risk your health and perhaps finally win freedom. You have to understand the psychology of the examining officer.

"But we who have nothing," he continued, "what can we do? I swear to you now, as I did to the examining officer, that I had and have no money. Before the Revolution I worked in a banking firm and therefore they thought that I must have some foreign currency. They wanted 5,000 roubles and I didn't have it. I had to bear the worst of treatment, have lost ten years of life and was sentenced to five years in concentration camp—one year for every thousand roubles that I didn't have.

"But hasn't some accusation been brought against you?" I asked.

"Accusation? What accusation? Just give up the money! If you do you'll be free, if not—it's concentration camp. They can always find some suitable article in the Code. If I had never speculated or possessed foreign currency, I would be accused just the same—according to Article 59, Paragraph 12—of speculation in foreign currency. If I had actually speculated and had the money, I would pay up and go home. This is proletarian justice!"

"And how do they pick out the people to be arrested?"

"It's all very simple. They arrest anyone who before the Revolution or at the time of the NEP was in business, since there is a possibility that such a man may still have some money. Jewelers are arrested for the precious stones and metals which they might have, dentists for the gold which they must use in their work and doctors and engineers because they formerly earned high salaries. If such people spend much money, they are accused of misappropriating funds or receiving money for 'wrecking'; if they spend little they are suspected of having money invested in foreign currency and this currency is demanded of them.

"I will only add that between 80% and 90% of the people arrested in connection with such cases are Jews. Who were the jewelers, watchmakers and dentists? Jews. In the common cells 10-20% of the prisoners are Jews, at the Gorokhovaya 80-90%. Yet people say that the Bolsheviks are Jews, that the Jews stimulated the Revolution! Soon we will all be in concentration camp together. Even those who give up their money don't remain free. Many of them are arrested again for the second, third and fourth time. As long as they can pay they will be arrested, and when they can pay no more they will be sent to the concentration camp. The GPU is destroying the Jews, but they are doing it without noise and in their own fashion."

My companion was right, for it was true that Judeophobia had reached enormous proportions in the GPU. Jewish prisoners were commonly addressed by the examining officers as "mangy Kikes." At Kresti one of the officers even made the Jews shout, "I am a mangy Kike," as they ran along the corridors back to their cells after cross-examination.

"They collect plenty of money this way," he went on. "It's now one of the chief ways in which the government gets hold of foreign currency. The Piatiletka  has failed—there is no merchandise or goods, they must have foreign currency to pay for machinery purchased from abroad even though this equipment is no longer of use to them. So they are collecting it. Other countries don't care how the Bolsheviks procure their money. Money doesn't smell! They may not want to accept our goods because they are produced by forced labor or because they don't need them, but they are ever ready to trade with the Bolsheviks and they take willingly that money which is extorted from the Russian people by torture."