Justice for the millions of surviving victims of Stalinist terror has been a theme of Soviet life off and on since Nikita Khrushchev's de-Stalinization campaign of the 1950s, but Mikhail Gorbachev's notion of glasnost has given citizens new opportunities for discussing it. Here we publish, as an example of what is going on in the Soviet Union just now, a letter to Literary Gazette by a Leningrad woman appealing for her husband, an ''ordinary person'' whose life was ''wrecked'' when he was imprisoned under Stalin. The newspaper noted that in 1987 alone it had received more than 10,000 letters on this theme.
I am an attentive reader of yours. I have been reading your paper with interest for a long time. Recently a lot has been written about things which had been forgotten; I read some articles and my heart bleeds. I remember my life and my husband's life. Our generation lived through the difficult 1930s, then the war years, then also the difficult postwar years. Now the deaths of Kirov, Tukachevskiy, Yakir and other innocent victims are written about openly. This is understandable: the fate of great people is in public view. But if even great people did not survive, what can be said about ordinary people?
My husband, A. I. Bogomolov, was just such an ordinary person. He was arrested after the end of the Finnish war, sentenced to be shot, then given 10 years, plus five years' deprivation of rights. He spent four years in a camp in the north in appalling conditions. Then came another arrest, another accusation, 15 months in an underground cell. In both cases he did not signthe accusation. He served his time there in the north, 12 years in total. His health was ruined forever, and his lungs were frostbitten. After the camp he lived in Syktyvkar.
I met my husband after 42 years' separation. The last time I had seen him had been in 1940 when I brought my newborn son to visit him at a Leningrad transit prison. We met. . . . My impression was appalling, but we decided not to part. His wife had died, my husband had died, and our children had grown up. So for five years I have been doctor, sister, nurse and friend. My husband's health is completely ruined; he worked until he was 74 years old. We live in my room in a communal apartment. Next door there is a mentally ill person. There are brawls, shouting matches, and the woman next door gets into fist fights. We have been refused a separate apartment -- we have more than 6 meters per person.
But this is what I want to tell you. In 1955 my husband was rehabilitated with regard to his second conviction, while we received rehabilitation for the first conviction only in 1985, when I myself started to pursue the matter. The Leningrad Military District military tribunal reconsidered his 1940 case and also quashed the verdict "for lack of corpus delicti." My husband was given 270 rubles only after this rehabilitation -- two months' salary for the post he held before the Finnish war. For all the 12 years in northern camps, for the interrogations, for the exhausting work in mines and felling timber -- a total of 270 rubles! Every time I inquired I was told that this is the law and was referred to the 1955 statute.
My husband's rights as a participant in the war were restored only after the last rehabilitation. He is now a Category 1 invalid, he is blind -- I read him the articles -- and he cries. He gets a pension of 113 rubles; this includes 15 rubles which he is given as a Category 1 invalid "for nursing."
But I have written and shall continue to write to all the official bodies because I think the whole thing is unjust. So long as he lives and I have the strength, I shall write about how people like my husband were given no benefits to compensate, however little, for everything they have suffered. They have not wronged their country, but their lives have been wrecked, their families' lives have been wrecked, they were deprived of society's respect, and they were not even given the right to fight, to become honored invalids or war veterans and receive festive congratulations!
I am not asking you to help me get an apartment. We are elderly people, and even if you help us get a separate apartment, it will be too late for us. My husband is 82 years old. Recently he suffered a stroke. But I beg you to help all those who also suffered innocently and were unable to defend themselves, since "the verdict was not subject to appeal."
Today they broadcast on the radio Tvardovskiy's poem "Right of Remembrance." I shook, and tears flowed from my husband's blind eyes. He was always a worker, a Komsomol member, he worked on the Kuznetskstroy, in Balkhash, and he always had callused hands. Now he cannot do anything, of course, but he senses the new time and believes that it is really revolutionary. Today a lot is changing, and it will be unjust if people who have suffered so terribly disappear from view when so much attention is being paid to war and labor veterans. Why not review the 1955 statute? Why don't the people who have suffered humiliation and shock enjoy any benefits, either material or moral? Are they to blame for the fact that they were unable to earn them?
I beg you to help me and to help those who can still be helped. Even now you sometimes hear people say of such-and-such a person that he was an enemy of the people and it is not for nothing that he was behind bars. It is not a question of money -- the point is that society should be aware of its duty to these people.
-- Valentina Zinovevna Gromova Leningrad