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

My Son Takes a Message

We were to be deported the following day. Early in the morning prisoners began to be called out to meet their relatives. There was great excitement among us, each one wondering whether he would be given a last chance of seeing those he loved. During the period of investigation scarcely any one was allowed to see members of his family, but before deportation permits for visits were granted quite freely. The only question was whether the relatives would get the news in time to go through the detailed and complicated formalities of procuring permits for such visits. The day was advancing, but still many of us had not been called out. We had lost everything—would we also be denied the right of seeing for the last time those who were dear to us?

Preparations for our departure were going on hurriedly: prison equipment such as mugs and bowls were taken away from us; a party was being made ready for the bathhouse. I tried not to think of the visit; the thought that I might be sent away without once more seeing my son was unbearable. At least one hundred of us were lined up and counted before being led out to bathe ourselves. And just as we were about to start, a warden arrived with a list of names. He called out twenty, mine among them. One minute later and we would have gone to the bathhouse and I would have missed my boy's visit.

Trembling with emotion we were led into a large room a grilled partition in front of us. About a meter beyond was another grill behind which stood our visitors. There was a terrible crush—a hundred prisoners on our side and more than a hundred visitors on the other all desperately trying to find their loved ones. People were jammed closely together, some holding fast to the bars and pressing their entire bodies against the grill, their faces distorted by emotion; others hopelessly trying to find an opening in the human mass through which they might squeeze. All knew that they were seeing their relatives for the last time, that in ten minutes they would be separated perhaps forever. The excitement and noise made conversations almost impossible—the strained and breaking voices of women, the ringing shouts of children—it was like one terrifying scream of torture and farewell.

In the midst of this chaos I saw my son. He was standing close to the grill, holding on to it with all his might, waving to me and shouting with his brave, little voice. I rushed towards him but could not reach the grill. "Let me pass! Let me pass, for God's sake!" I cried, but no one heard me. Each one had before him only that face which was dear to him and heeded only their words. Frantically I tried to push one prisoner aside and for a second he turned to me, his face wet with tears, his hands clutching the grill convulsively. With one great effort I shouldered my way forward and grasped the fence with one hand. There was a sharp cracking and the grill started to fall. Guards rushed out to support it and while they were propping it up I succeeded in getting up close to it that I might hear the words that my son was shouting.

"Mother is in prison," he yelled through the din and meanings of other human cries. "I take remittances to her. They won't let me see her. She once sent me a letter."

"And how is N.?" I shouted.

"She is in prison."

"And N. N.?"

"She is also in prison. Misha is left alone, too. He takes remittances to her."

"And N. N. N.?"

"She died."

I was afraid of questioning him further. There was no one left on whose help I could count. Through the crowd I could vaguely distinguish a woman totally unknown to me who stood behind my boy. Evidently she had brought him to the visit.

"If Mother is deported, try to go with her," I shouted.

"All right," he replied, and his childish mouth twitched and large tears dropped fast from his eyes and ran down his cheeks. But he was not noticing them and was not wiping them off.

"Have you got any money? What are you living on?" I asked.

"I've sold your camera."

"Good, sell whatever you can. Take remittances to Mother. Send nothing to me. Now listen carefully: I am going to Kem. Kem, do you understand? For five years. And remember this: I have not written any confessions. I am being deported innocent. Remember well: I have not surrendered."

I was shouting loudly and to my surprise felt that my voice was breaking, that tears were running down my face.

The visit was ended. We were being driven out of the room.

"Good-bye, dear, good-bye!" I called out in haste amidst the terrible moaning and screaming that filled the room.

"Remember Mother! Take care of her! Good-bye."