In the news at the time:
At the unusual session, General Shchelokov was said to have told the Jews that he had heard of the alleged beatings on a newscast by the British Broadcasting Corporation. He insisted that he was not in charge of security at the reception office.
“I would never permit beating,” Mr. Shcharansky quoted the minister as having said. “If it were my affair, I would arrest the organizers.”
Four of the Jews were missing tonight. They were Boris Chernobylsky, a radio engineer; Arkady Polishchuk, a former editor of the magazine Asia and Africa Today; Viktor Yelistratov and Mikhail Kremen, both also radio engineers. It was not known whether they had been arrested.
The missing “refuseniks” plus one — Arkady Polishchuk notes in his account of that distant day that he had not applied for a visa but was with a crew that had — knew where they were, and the one doing the remembering through his memoir was in that place called pain.
A doctor in the Sklifosofsky Institute said that I had two cracked ribs and recommended to wind a towel around my trunk. He refused to give me an x-ray film or a written reference. An exhausted night nurse of this principal trauma center muttered, “If we give a reference to every hoodlum beaten in a street fight the country would soon run out of ink and paper.”
They certainly had shortages of x-ray films and painkillers.
Having been Jewish but not at the time a refusenik, Polishchuk would similarly take up the cause of Pentacostal Christians persecuted by the Soviet Union for their possession of faith. With empathy and wry humor, he conveys what it’s like for the criminalized pious:
“The local KGB should pray for you every day,” I said. “Without you, they would’ve stagnated here, without an increase in rank and salary.”
After this lively exchange of views on the role of light and darkness in the spiritual life of mankind, we all crossed the kitchen garden planted with heavenly potatoes, passed by green onions and fragrant dill, and, through a narrow opening in the fence, began making our way to the house of Vera Shchukin. One by one or in pairs, we used the most roundabout paths between houses. The village was asleep. Almost all windows were now unlit.
I wiped sweat from my forehead and whispered to Goretoi, “Muggy.”
He said nothing. I couldn’t stop talking. “For how long have you been aware that this gathering is prohibited by articles 142 and 227 of the Criminal Code?”
“For as long as I’ve believed in my Savior,” he whispered.
Near the time of this writing, Polishchuk’s telling of the plight of Pentecostal Christians may take on an eerie resonance as Capo, Colonel, President, Emperor Vladimir Putin’s government goes after the community of Jehova’s Witnesses in today’s Russia:
“It began about 10 o’clock in the evening and didn’t wind up until 4 a.m.,” Tatyana Petrova said of the raid. “I didn’t see how it started because I was in the kitchen, but I heard my husband go to the door. I heard a woman introduce herself as someone from the electric company. She said she needed to read the meter. My husband opened the door and then a whole crowd of people pushed into the apartment.”
In Polishchuk’s day:
Children giggled and jostled each other in the ribs. The men were pushed up against the walls. Two old women sat close to the invisible gap between the door and its frame, in hope of catching a breath of fresh air. On stools sat an old man, white as chalk, and two pregnant women. One of them, with a hand-copied New Testament, offered me her chair, but I shook my head and clung to the wall. When nearly forty persons had squeezed into the house, the deacon turned on the light, and ducked outside to check if it escaped to the street.
Life’s a long enough journey for most, but in the Soviet Union, the unutterable sadness of situations posed against the boasted heroic strength of the state must have made it seem so much longer. “Alik”, when referred to with affection, sent to write about a community for the blind discovers instead of a refuge for those so afflicted a familiar metaphor and dismal reality: “. . . a leper colony. There was nothing I could write about them. I was frantically looking for a way to say at least half-truths about their everyday concerns instead of reporting on the contribution of the blind to our common cause of building socialism.”
In the wings always and frequently spotlighted: spooks . . . KGB — as colleagues (around whom to be cautious) on publications; as agents sent to disconnect his home phone before the refusenik Natan Sharansky could relay a statement by Andrei Sakharov to a listener in Canada; as minders, followers, and thugs.
The games played in Putin’s courts today seem no different then they were then. Polishchuk covered one of the trials of Dr. Mikhail Stern whose latest crime had been to give his son “a written permission” required in support of the application of the same to emigrate. The whole becomes an absurd nightmare of examinations of minute evidence to none.
While the phantoms of the Soviet live on in the spiritual descendants of the KGB, perhaps the haunting swirls on in the earlier victims of their omnipresent bureaucracy, observation, manipulation, sabotage, entrapment and framing, capricious “justice”, and punishment.