Non Varshavskiy: Postcards from a ship-wrecked anarchist in East Siberian exile

Anarchist Non (Noi) Ilyich Varshavskiy was imprisoned in 1927 for producing a leaflet protesting against then-imminent execution of Italian-American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, which also called on proletarians to protest against persecution of anarchists in the USSR. ( After serving a three-year sentence at the Suzdal political isolator, Varshavskiy was internally exiled to a remote village in sub-Arctic East Siberia, Komsa, from which he reported on his ordeals to the Relief Fund of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) for Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned or Exiled in Russia in a series of postcards in 1932-1933. He was sentenced to three more years in Siberian exile in July 1933 (, arrested again in 1949, and sentenced to 10 more years of exile in East Siberia as a “socially dangerous element”. Non Varshavskiy was only cleared of charges in 1955.

Komsa village, March 11, 1932

Dear David! Only now did I receive your postcard from the postman, and I am immensely glad. As the postman would be leaving soon (you should be familiar with the postal conditions in Turukhansky Krai), I hurry to fill this little postcard, seeing that I would write in more detail later. For now I only inform you that I received the parcel, and it made me extremely glad as a greeting from friends so distant and at the same time so near. My address: Podkamennaya Tunguska post office, Turukhansky Krai, stanok Komsa. Warm greetings to all. Well, so more details with next post. I strongly shake all hands.


[postal stamp: Yeniseysk]

From: N.I. Varshavskiy, Turukhansky Krai, Podkamennaya Tunguska post office, stanok Komsa

To: France, Paris 4, 11 rue Geoffroy L’Angevin, J. Doubinsky *

notes: replied (in pen)

Komsa, March 11, 1932

Only a few hours have passed since I sent a little postcard, and although I do not know when I would be able to send this one (the postman promised to return not earlier than March 20), I still could not resist spoiling another one. I will start from myself. I am feeling really great, no health problems either; I’m not doing anything. For now, I am collecting joiner’s and carpenter’s tools little by little and I think of retraining. As you know, my regular profession is stereotypography. Obviously, I had to say goodbye to it “seriously and for a long time”; I got tired of working menial jobs - it is both hard, and very badly paid.

The encampment where I live is located 600 km downriver from Yeniseysk - there are 23 houses here, no books, no newspapers. Unfortunately, I have to survive on what gets sent to me.

From late [19]30, I lived in Kansk - worked as a chimney-sweeper, and started training as a stove-setter. From sping [19]31 I ended up in Yeniseysk, where a small co-operative of unskilled workers was formed by comrades, then it fell apart and everyone went their own separate ways. It fell apart because it was hard to procure work as a co-operative. I have briefly got a job as a cart-man at the communal services department, but even this idyll was broken by the transfer to Turukhansk.

Perspectives: in the spring perhaps it would be possible to take up fishing (the village stands on the Yenisei River).

Btw., I have heard of the latest events in Spain - in spirit I am there. In the moments of weakness, I also wish to transfer this lump of clay there [i.e., to go to Spain] but [indicipherable] neither in weak nor in resolute.

I study Italian, I walk in the forest which surrounds the village. Like many, in the times of forced idleness I feel that I could have worked with some use, that a lot has accumulated, but nothing would work out without books. [Presumably ‘that many thoughts and feelings have accumulated in my mind, but without books for reference, I cannot really work as a writer.’] Generally, that is all. And now, allow me to strongly hug and kiss you, according to our custom (I’ve become quite sentimental here). Hello to friends.


[Paris postal stamp, 1932]

To: France, Paris 4, 11 rue Geoffroy L’Angevin, Doubinsky

notes: Varshavskiy (in pencil), replied (in pen)

postal stamp: Tunguska, 15.03.1932

Komsa, August 8

Dear David! Yesterday I received your postcard dated June 17. I am immensely content that my little postcards also get to you. I am now in the position of Robinson Crusoe who saw sails on the horizon: I am just as feral, and just as unaware of whether the ship would notice my call for help. On August 22 it would be six years since the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, and August 22 is also six years since I got ship-wrecked. According to our law, I should be moving southwards. Some signs indicate that it would be so, but it is likely that my ship would be forced to take a course to the Nord. Due to these considerations, I am deprived of an opportunity to write anything definite. Linchevskiy David** and Barmash*** have informed me from Yeniseysk that 7 roubles for me were received, and promised to send a parcel for these money as soon as I write to them what I need. I wrote to them about a month ago, or a little more than that, but there was no response from them yet. As I wait for the future, I am fishing, picking berries, and cheekily ask for a newspaper from all those passing through. The latter, however, usually without luck. I want to believe that I will write the next one from a place more southern, for now I strongly shake all of your hands.


[St Gervais postal stamp, 5.09.1933]

To: France, av. Jean Jaures 25, Pre St Gervais (Seine), J. Doubinsky

notes: N. Varshavskiy, replied (in pencil)

postal stamp: 27.08.1933

* Doubinsky, Jacques, see

** Linchevskiy, David Moiseyevich, see Guillotine at Work by GP Maximoff, p. 600.

*** Barmash, Vladimir, see

[Folder 76, Fl├ęchine (Senya Fleshin) papers, International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam]

Translated by Szarapow

On related note: Memoirs by mountain climber Irina Korzun (1914-2007) say that in the second half of 1950s Non Varshavskiy’s daughter Liya Varshavskaya worked as a physics teacher at Moscow school No 613. During World War II, she was taken by the Germans to Poland, and saved by the Red Army. No mention of her father. [in Russian]

From: Folder 76, Fl├ęchine (Senya Fleshin) papers, International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam. Translated by: - Szarapow.