Wanderings Through an Inferno: An Analysis of the Great Terror as Seen Through the Eyes of Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg
The following paper will be an analysis of "The Great Terror," that is, the arrest and often execution of millions of Russian and Russian minorities from 1936 to 1938, carried out by the Soviet secret police, known as, and hereafter referred to as the NKVD. The analysis will use Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg's, a Russian professor and writer who was arrested early into the purges and experienced, as well as survived, it in its entirety, memoir a Journey Into the Whirlwind as a primary source. More specifically, it will focus on Ginzburg's arrest and subsequent imprisonment from 1936 to 1938, covered in part one of her memoir. The paper will be divided into three parts: the first will attempt to summarize part one of Journey Into the Whirlwind; the second will cover the experience of those targeted by the purges during their early Imprisonment and interrogation; the third will focus on Eugenia Ginzburg's attitude toward the Communist party and it's evolution throughout her experience. I.
Before February 1937 Eugenia Ginzburg was a typical communist party member. Her fervent devotion to the communist party, the product of "a demagogic education and the mystic spell of Party slogans" (24), was as primal to her being and identity as her name. Ginzburg's position as a History Professor and writer on the local paper the "Red Tartary," made her part of the Russian Intelligentsia, (8) one of the groups targeted by Stalin's purges.
In 1937 Ginzburg was arrested under the charge of associating with "persons already condemned" (30), the condemned was a colleague of hers on the Red Tartary, Elvov, who was charged with being a Trotskyist for writing an article on the theory of "Permanent Revolution" not in accordance with the party line of his time (5). Ginzburg was later formally charged, after a harrowing interrogation process that included inhumane and illegal tactics, with being a "Trotskyist terrorist
dedicated to the restoration of capitalism" (166) by way of an "underground terrorist organization" running out of the "Red Tartary" editorial office (173). She was sentenced to serve 10 years in solitary confinement, because the only other alternative was death, Ginzburg was elated at the outcome (174).
Ginzburg went on to spend more than 2 years in "solitary confinement", from spring 1937 until spring 1939 (180, 226, 231, 250). In truth, by late 1937 the Soviet prison system was so filled that some prisoners in solitary confinement were given cellmates; Ginzburg was coupled with Julia Karepova a woman that had endured nearly the same journey as her (202-203). The two became in a way "sisters" (264), and would go on to support and help each other survive. By 1939, the soviet government realized that it wasn't economically viable to keep so many people out of work and subsequently sent them to gulags, hard-labor camps (258, 262). Part one of Journey into the Whirlwind ends with Ginzburg and her fellow prisoners being sent to these hard-labor camps (267-70). II.
From the outset, the purges that occurred in the late 1930's were an organized and planned assault on specific groups within the Soviet Union. More specifically "purges
were carried out strictly in accordance with a prearranged plan which affected this or that category of people quite irrespectively of the way they had actually behaved" (17). Such a systematic removal of innocent Soviet citizens from society could not occur if the masses did not think it to be justified. It was to this end that Soviet propaganda of the time promoted the idea of the existence of a vast underground terrorist organization that threatened the very fabric of communism.
The "first victims of the witch hunt" (22) were targeted because they belonged to a particular category of people. Eugenia...
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