The letter below was originally published by the Russian “Memorial” society, which specializes in publicizing the Soviet Union’s totalitarian past. It was found in the archival fond labelled “E. P. Peshkova. Help to political prisoners (1922-1938)” in the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF). Yekaterina Peshkova was the director of “Aid to Political Prisoners,” an unofficial, but tolerated, humanitarian organization based in Moscow; Vera Grigorevna Man was one of her assistants. The introduction, postscript, and most of the annotations were supplied by “Memorial.” Annotations with the initials MA were written by the translator.
The anarchist Yelena Mikhailovna Chekmasova was born in 1895 in the village of Polozovo, Tulskaya governate. She received a secondary education. She lived in Moscow and worked as a schoolteacher. On August 17 1921 she was arrested and sentenced for “membership in the anarchist underground” to one year of exile and sent to Arkhangelsk.i In early January 1922 she was arrested there, and on January 14 sentenced to the VMN [highest measure of punishment, i.e. death], which was commuted to five years in a concentration camp. She was sent to the Solovki Special Purpose Camp. On May 25 1925, she was released from the camp with a residential restriction of “minus 6” [not allowed to live in six major cities]. She settled first in the village of Mikhailovka in Stalingradskaya oblast, but by August 1925 was living in the city of Irbit, Uralskaya oblast. ii
October 31 1925
Dear Vera Grigorevna!
I’m sending you a receipt for the money you sent, and also taking the opportunity to say something about myself.
It’s true that previously I’ve written to Fanya Grigorevna [Elshtein] and Chembareva, iii but I haven’t received any letters from Moscow for a whole month. From Leningrad I have received a postcard from Dina Yerukhimovich, iv where she writes that she sent a parcel for my baby to Moscow, but since I wasn’t there, she asked that it be forwarded to the Red Cross. Did you get it?
Our journey, which lasted eight days, went fairly smoothly (except for when we were stuck in Sverdlovsk for two and a half days). En route the baby came down with bronchitis as well as an upset stomach. The doctor prescribed a mixture which she drank willingly from a spoon. Now she’s much better and her cough is almost gone. She laughs, loves singing, and won’t tolerate being wrapped up in swaddling clothes. So now Natalya Grigorevna no longer has the right to call her “my little package.” She turns from her back to her side and back again, and bends her legs.
It’s just the two of us living together, but occasionally we have visits from the other comrades living here: Vlasenkov and his wife, Skachkovvi (also with his wife), A. S. Miagkovavii and Gerasimov.viii Vlasenko is an anarchist, Skachkov is a sympathizer, and the rest in fact are also anarchists.
A room with firewood, lighting, and water costs about 10-12 rubles a month. The water supply here is awful: there’s one basin for two blocks, so there’s always a long lineup; or else there’s the river, which is ½ verst [about ½ km] distant. Delivery is 3 rubles a month.
I went to some institutions to look for a job, but it seems there won’t be any openings before next summer.
There’s a library in the city which I still haven’t had a chance to visit. The library is prohibited by the GPU from circulating Byloyeix, since it’s harmful, illegal literature. Well, fine. It’s true, isn’t it?
Beynarovichx requests that you send, either to me or to Baykalskoye, the collective works of Lavrov xi (complete, if possible) and Krayevich’s course in physics.xii Let Fanya Grigorevna know about this.
Heartfelt greetings to everyone.
Thanks for your concern about my little one.
In 1928 Yelena Mikhailovna Chekmasova was arrested, sentenced to three years of exile, and sent to Siberia;xvi her term of exile was extended by three years on two more occasions (in 1931 and 1934). xvii
i. Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Rossiyskoy Federatsii (GARF) f. P-8409. op. 1, d. 17, l. 11.
iii. The anarchist Rosa Chembareva lived in Moscow. On August 29 1929 she was arrested and charged with “engaging in counterrevolutionary anarchist activity.” In 1930 she was sentenced to three years of exile and sent to the Urals.
iv. Dina Zalmanovna Yerukhimovich was born in 1890 in Dvinsk. She received a secondary education and joined the Left SR Party. In 1923 she was arrested and sentenced to two years in an ITL [political isolator] and sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. In the spring of 1925 she was released and returned to Leningrad. In the early 1930s, she was living in exile in Sverdlovsk, working as the manager of a warehouse. On May 5 1935, she was arrested, and sentenced on the following July 28 to three years in exile, to be served in the village of Novoselovo, Krasnoyarsky krai. On March 15 1938, she was arrested and on the following April 15 sentenced to the VMN (highest measure of punishment). She was shot on April 27 1938.
v. The anarcho-communist Boris Mikhaylovich Vlasenko was born in 1896 and received a higher education. He lived in Moscow and lectured at the Land Management Institute. He was arrested in April 3 1925, sentenced on the following June 23 to a three-year term of exile, and sent to Irbit, later moving to Komi-Permyatsky okrug. After his release, he lived in the Moscow region, working as a manager in the planning department of the Ramensky Instrument Engineering Plant. On December 14 1934, he was arrested, sentenced on the following February 27 to five years of ITL, and sent to a camp.
vi. The social democrat Vladimir Skachkov was arrested in June 1924 as part of a case involving anarchists. He was sentenced to three years of exile and sent to Irbit. He was released in the spring of 1928 with limitations on his place of residence (minus 6) for a further three years.
vii. The anarchist Anna Sergeyevna Myagkova was a student. In October 1925 she was serving a term of exile in Irbit. In the spring of 1928 she was released with limitations on place of residence, and settled in Vologda.
viii. The anarchist Yefim Ivanovich Gerasimov was born in 1901 in Vladimirsky gubernia, and served as a marine in the Baltic fleet. In 1925 he was arrested in Kronstadt, sentenced to three years of exile, and sent to Irbit. On April 27 1927 he was arrested, sentenced on October 21 to three years of prison, and sent to the Verkhne-Uralsk ITL in December. In 1930 he was released and exiled for three years to Narym, Siberia.
ix. Byloye [The Past] was an independent (non-government) monthly magazine specializing in the history of Russia’s revolutionary movements (mainly from the 19th century), and subjected to censorship or outright suppression under both the tsarist and Soviet regimes. In 1925 it had a circulation of about 6,000. In the following year, it disappeared after its last two numbers were completely suppressed. These issues were finally published in 1991. – MA
x. The Left SR Aleksandr Yakovlevich Beynarovich was arrested in 1923 along with other members of a Left SR group. On March 30 1923 he was sentenced to two years in an ITL and sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. On May 10 1925 he was sentenced to three years of exile and sent to Irbit, but soon escaped from exile.
xi. The Narodnik Peter Lavrov (1823–1900) competed with Mikhail Bakunin for the hearts and minds of Russia’s revolutionary youth. An edition of his collected works was published in Petrograd in 1917–1920, but was far from complete: only 11 of the projected 54 volumes were published – Lavrov was a prolific writer. – MA
xiii. The SR Maria Klementyevna Leontyevaya was born in 1889. On October 10 1922, she was arrested in Odessa, and on March 30 1923 sentenced to two years in an ITL and sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. On May 10 1925, she was sentenced to three years of exile in Central Asia and sent to Tashkent; in November 1926 she moved to Frunze [now known as Bishkek].
xiv. The anarchist Vasiliy Dmitriyevich Makhov was born in 1889. On August 17 1921, he was arrested in Moscow, and on January 14 1922, he was sentenced to the VMN, later commuted to two years of exile in Arkhangelsky governate. In 1923 he was arrested and sentenced to five years in an ITL and sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. In 1925 he was released, but sentenced to three years of exile in Siberia and sent to Parabel [a village 400 km northwest of Tomsk in central Siberia]. He was still there in 1928.
Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.