"This is very important," said Natalya Solzhenitsyn, wife of exiled Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, rising from her chair and taking your hand in both of hers. "This last thing is very important - Europeans are tired, but Americans have room within their souls for understanding. But they don't know enough."
She was alone, for the first time in some hours, except for her interpreter, Irene Alberti, and a reporter, and her body movements were looser than they had been in the crowded sessions at the Rayburn Building earlier.
One of her points had been that the Scharansky and Ginzburg and other political trials were not merely an aberration of the Soviet government - seemingly designed to pique and annoy the American eagle - but were part of the natural communist machinery, and inevitable in one form or another as long as communism rules.
"Well," you might ask, "you seem to be saying that the only solution is the abolition of the communist government.
"Do you expect America to announce in Moscow that the Communist Party should just go away? What earthly sort of response do you think America can make to your views that the Soviet state cannibalizes or devours or makes war on its citizens?"
She had been expecting a question like that, and said:
"I am not an expert on these things. Politics is a profession of its own, and I am a mathematician, and besides I am a foreigner. I am not entitled to tell America what it should do.
"But I can say what you should not be doing."
Her eyes are dark and intense, though they are gray-hazel in most lights. Her modest body tenses once more and her fingers extend straight, pressing the table. Her black hair sifted over with a little gray at the tips is sleek and charged-looking like a dog's in a moment of danger.
"What you should not be doing," and she tries not to be too nosy when she looks over to see if you're writing that down.
"You have to see things such as they are. If a country tends to tranquilize or deceive itself, of course it has the possibility to do so.
"Up to the time the bombs start falling on people's heads, there is the possibility of deceiving themselves. Every country has the possibility to do that if that's what it wants.
"But the only thing people should not do, not if they love life itself - they should not allow themselves to be deceived.
"In a communist regime there can be changes. But it is just oscillation, and no matter where they oscillate, they continue to be a huge danger.
"In Khrushchev's time began that 'detente'. What the West calls detente has never been detente.
"People were just fooling themselves. The Khrushchev regime was far different from Stalin's. Sometimes I think it may have been even more dangerous, since people were more likely to be deceived in a period of 'detente.'
Americans are an open and generous people. The trouble is that for many years people were kept in ignorance, in spite of the freedom of your press.
"In my own experience in America, which has been so short, if I tell my neighbors how schools are organized, or my troubles or what the relations between people are in Russia, I have always come across deep astonishment on the part of Americans. They didn't know it at all.
"I will say - I said this once to a man in the media - a man was fired, and he (the reporter) will say well, why doesn't he chop wood and sell it?
"Of course, he can't chop it and sell it. He doesn't own a tree. Nobody does. Being fired is something - but you have to understand how life is organized in the Soviet."
She poured herself a cup of coffee from a pot midway between the three of us, but rarely seemed a sip any. After a while she took a lump of sugar.
"It's not necessary to speak just of political prisoners. Just the daily life of people - but that is what you do not get."
You may have been on the verge of saying you have had up to here those accounts of Moscow apartments and old grandmother with the new stove, etc., but Solzhenitsyn has other things to say:
"There are two types of confinement for political reasons, strict regime and special regime.Special regime is the worst. That is what faces Ginzburg.
"It is where Ginzburg will be sent. The kind of place Solzhenitsyn [her husband, the expelled novelist and Nobel laureate] spent time and described. Today, by the way, he says they are far worse than in Stalin's day.
"Let me give you a specific detail. In Stalin's time, families could send food parcels, no limitations, to prisoners. Now, for the first half of the sentence, a prisoner can receive no parcels at all. After half his term has been served, then he can receive one 10-pound parcel a year, and two small packages, not over two pounds each. There are many restrictions - no vitamins, no chocolates, no books or magazines . . ."
Her face is tense. You are fairly sure she is exasperated to be detailing the particulars of packages, how many and how often, when her friends are in court for treason. But she has persisted in the number of pounds:
"This is just one detail. One of so many. But I would like you to understand the life of a prisoner.
"A wife may visit once a year. It may be years before children see their father if he's a prisoner."
And Ginzburg's wife, Solzhenitsyn said, lost her job teaching (she was a philologist at Moscow State University) because of Ginzburg's activities. She "had to become a cleaning lady somewhere," and as Solzhenitsyn told the House-Senate Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, it is hard for a woman in such a position even to scrape up the money for one visit a year.
Natalya's husband, she said, talked this over with Ginzburg before the Solzhenitsyns were expelled. In 1972 (after Ginzburg was freed from a prison) the novelist said he would turn over the Western royalties of his book, "Gulag Archipelago," to establish a fund for prisoners and their families.
"There was no point even asking for permission," she said with a shrug toward her coffee, during the interview. "But the fund began being distributed in 1973. It was announced by Ginzburg in Russia in 1974. I don't think the Western press reported it.
"I am the president and manager of the fund in America, and Ginzburg managed and distributed it in Russia. There are 20 or so others there, but their names are not being mentioned.
"Ginzburg himself has said he has distributed a sum equivalent to $360,000 in the time he managed it, between his release from prison in January 1972, and his arrest in February 1977. He said, 'I am only indicating the money that has passed through my own hands."
"It is not just political prisoners. Many are in jail or camps for religious beliefs. There are over 15 ethnic groups in the Soviet Union being helped were contributed inside Russia - people, would get the money anonymously to the fund.
"That is an old tradition; in the old days at Easter people would leave food at prison gates for prisoners they had never seen. It was the tradition in Russia to help 'the unhappy ones,' as prisoners were called. Well, now throughout the country people give clothes. They could sell them. But they say, 'Here, use it for prisoners' families, and don't say where it came from."
"Not everyone is able to state his sympathy, but I know cases where people would stand in line for hours to buy something for a prisoner. Many of my friends were in that situation of needing help - like Mrs. Ginzburg.I am the godmother of their two children, born since his release and before his arrest again."
But the point of the trials, she had said, was to remind citizens they were creatures of the state, with no recourse, and anything (like the fund) that even hinted of the possibility of resistance to the state infuriated the Soviet government which did indeed consider it tampering with domestic affairs in a most serious way. Because, she said, the Soviet leaders believe they are masters "of the bodies and souls of their citizens."
The sort of dissent Ginzburg practiced, she said, distributing money to prisoners, "means their power is no longer total, and the lesson they (the Soviet government) are trying to teach in invalid."
Natalya Solzhenitsyn, who left the quaint, tiny, pretty town of Cavendish, Vt., where she and her husband live, to come here to testify, was being pressed to go get in a car that was taking her to a television appointment. Yesterday she was luncheon guest of the American Security Council, and today meets with AFL-CIO President George Meany and tapes a radio program.
Rep. James Jeffords (R-Vt.) had entered the room of his office, which he had lent for the interview, to urge her to rest.
"But the communist regime," she shot out before leaving, "is afraid of the mercy."