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Colony for Juvenile «Enemies of the People» Where We Were Fed Food with Worms

I was born on October 10, 1934, at 10 o'clock in the evening in Moscow, where my father, Ivan Konstantinovich Baskov, was completing his studies at the command faculty of the Zhukovsky Academy. My mother, Alexandra Alexandrovna Bryantseva, was experiencing severe stress at that time after organizing a campaign to eliminate the bodies in the Volga region. Her condition was further exacerbated by the death of her second daughter from diphtheria in the nursery. She was expecting a son, but I was born. They named me Elvira. At that time in Moscow, there were many Spanish orphans, and there was a fashion for new names like Vilen (V.I. Lenin), Vladilen (Vladimir Lenin), Deloria (10 years of the October Revolution), and many others.

The parents are Ivan Konstantinovich and Alexandra Alexandrovna.

After completing his studies, my father returned to Siberia to his place of service, and we went with him. There, I ended up in the hospital with a severe inflammation. In the ward, I neither died nor lived. Red streptocide didn't help. And when they brought me back home with the most dismal prognoses, another girl was already born there — Lena, and she was much larger than me, although she was 1.5 years younger. Mom, failing to meet dad's expectations, felt very sorry for and loved her little sister. And strangely enough, my father dedicated all his leisure time to the mentally and physically underdeveloped being, that is, me. We learned to walk and dance, to speak and compose poems. We drew, molded, glued, and even watched movies (shadows on the wall from finger combinations resembled birds, kittens, dogs, foxes, wolves...). He was always interested in what I thought. My father's efforts turned out to be not in vain. In kindergarten, my crafts were already considered the best. And they also said that I danced amazingly.

I didn't see my father's arrest, but I remember vividly how it happened with my mother. Two men in black held her, others, turning everything upside down in the room, sat us in the car and ordered us to drive. Mother suddenly broke free and, clinging to the bumper, dragged herself along the road, while her escorts ran behind her, shouting, waving their hands. She was arrested because she annoyed all the authorities by searching for her husband. She was fired from her job (she taught at the Institute of Marxism-Leninism). With no money or food, she sold things, tried not to eat herself, just to feed the children. And at this time, the long-awaited boy is born. We wanted to please the arrested father, but he had already died from torture.

They demanded compromising evidence from my father on Tukhachevsky, Gamarnik, Yakir, although they were no longer alive. If he had signed everything they gave him, he would have lived, advancing in his career. But he couldn't! Mom argued that a person of crystal honesty couldn't be an enemy of the people. It turned out that the party, Beria, and others were wrong. So she earned Article 58. The boy died.

And here we are in a colony for juvenile delinquents and children of enemies of the people. A pleasant surprise for me — no one stands over us and demands that we finish our meals. We crumble the food, discard the worms (maybe unnecessarily), and eat the rest. We destroy lice like mosquitoes by touch.

My memory, like a tape recorder, recorded everything that was interesting to me. So, my sister Katya read the myths of Ancient Greece, and I retold them to the kids in other "rooms" with an excited, intermittent voice. The listeners' eyes also widened, and their breath caught. Every evening I was taken to a different room and asked to tell about Medusa Gorgona and the Lernean Hydra.

Not only children, but also colonels who wanted to adopt a child, willingly talked to a little person just above the boot, albeit with independent judgments. But I considered them stupid: "Why do you think my parents are bad if they were arrested? Wasn't Lenin or Stalin arrested?" I was wanted to be adopted several times, but they offered either all three of us (Katya born in 1928, me - Elvira born in 1934, and Lena born in 1936), or no one. They didn't want to break up the family. But fate decided otherwise...

Mother declared a hunger strike, demanding that we be sent to her sisters. She was afraid that the colony would turn us into criminals. And so we are going to Aunt Lisa - a distinguished educator. And the aunt is already being interrogated by the authorities: why does she accept children of enemies of the people? "Would you throw out orphans if you were in my place? You can kill me, but I am not capable of that!"

Katya was decided to be left with Aunt Lisa. Me - to the middle sister, Aunt Tasia. And the youngest, Lena, it was decided to give to the childless Aunt Tama and Uncle Vasya. And here comes the fateful moment. Uncle Vasya, looking us over, decided that the youngest was the smallest. We instantly became friends, understood each other without words, winked at each other like conspirators. We drew, built wells from matches, and houses from cards. We felt good together. And here I am in a cart to get to the station, from where to take a train to Vyborg, where Aunt Tama and Uncle Vasya lived. The matter with the documents. And then it turns out that I am not the youngest, but the middle one. Uncle Vasya is disappointed, and my heart is ready to break from sorrow. They reassure me, assure me that I will like it at the Lebedevs'. But there are no arrows in the soul to transfer feelings from one object to another. Or maybe I sensed that this mistake would distort my entire future.

From left to right: Aunt Valya, Lena, Mom, Elvira, Katya

City of Gorky. Voroshilovsky district (now Prioksky), Podgornaya street, 11-7. The Lebedev family is educated and intelligent. Aunt works in the design department of the Lenin plant, uncle is the deputy chief in the Forestry Department of the same plant. Uncle's mother is the daughter of a former owner of the Caspian Oil Society "Zubarev and Co." And her grandmother was a lady-in-waiting of "Her Imperial Highness." I remember her photo - a tall hairstyle and a thin waist. Uncle's father was an orphan from peasants, worked as an agent for his father-in-law. He was talented and very handsome. Grandfather traveled a lot - to England, Japan. His stories were very interesting and amazing. Uncle's older brother - Vsevolod, the author of the "Vyatka Notes", passed away early. Sisters - one is a sculptor, the other is a designer.

And here I am with them. In the eyes of the Lebedevs, surprise and bewilderment. I am much smaller than my brother Volik. Without embarrassment, they discuss my rickets, ascariasis (characteristic bruises under the eyes), lice, ailments, and so on. Apparently, they thought that I was mentally as neglected as physically, and would not understand. Uncle Vasya's main concern is contacts, while here it's hygiene. Urgent sanitary treatment. The dowry - into boiling water, and they shave my head, wash me, all four of them. And I'm six years old. Shame and soul pain suffocate. And suddenly, for no apparent reason, I burst into tears so that no one could calm me down. Patience ran out, I was punished and locked in the room of my grandmother and grandfather, to reflect and ask for forgiveness. But does sorrow diminish from punishment? And in the next room, my mother's sister cried. Such a meeting was not expected... Her sons, eleven-year-old Oleg and six-year-old Volik, tried their best to comfort their mother, whom they adored (not only them). But seeing the futility of their efforts, they hated me, vowed to avenge their mother's tears, and teach this "rickety," "idiot," "fool" a lesson. They no longer called me by other names. Thus began a new stage of my life.

If there were no adults around, the day started with the question: "Speak up, rickets, do you want it in your ear or in your teeth?" I didn't know I had upset my aunt to tears, so I didn't feel guilty, and instead of fear, I felt contempt. If I cried, complained, the adults would intervene, and the tooth-pickers would not become a habit. I was supposed to feel love and gratitude for being fed and taken care of, but because of the brothers' inclination to avenge our mother's tears, my ability to love gradually disappeared. I didn't even call anyone in the family by name. This was also not to the brothers' advantage: if they hadn't picked on me but looked after their little cousin, it would have affected their relationship with other girls. And as a result, the talented, attractive brothers were unsuccessful with the opposite sex. The younger one, though he called me names, didn't hit me. And the older one liked to.

But childhood was not just about beatings. Before the war, while grandma was alive, the children were always busy. We drew, crafted, I washed dishes, cleaned boiled vegetables, helping grandma in the kitchen. Grandma rested with knitting needles in hand, telling us fairy tales. And we, listening, darned socks, sometimes with loops, sometimes with a mesh. The preparation for holidays was brighter than the holidays themselves. We painted flags, cardboard animals, nuts, blown-out eggshells, and were proud of our handicrafts. Not like now - tickets, gifts, and no creativity. Knowing how to handle a needle came in handy for me.

The war was already underway. Aunt's design salary was only enough for salt. We had to get chickens, a couple of goats, dig up and plant the slopes of ravines. Mushrooms grew abundantly in the dumps. It's a good thing everyone considered them toadstools. We ate cutlets made from burdock roots. Once, the brothers caught some small fish. There was wonderful fish with potatoes. Later, without the fish, but with the smell of fish. Aunt justified herself by saying she didn't wash the skillet. That smell lingered for a long time because the potatoes were fried with onions in fish fat. I remember, aunt, running late for the factory, told me to gather, wash, and chop nettles for borscht. I did it carelessly, and when I started to chop, I saw hairy caterpillars wriggling there. I wanted to throw them away and gather again, but aunt objected: "It's too late, you should have checked earlier, chop - it will be fattier!"

In the evenings, with fingers sore, aunt sewed costumes for her sons from burlap and tent cloth. And I inspected the dugouts on the edge of the ravine, where the scraps, from which children grew, were taken. There you could find shoes and coats. I wore a bear fur coat, in which I was brought, from 4 to 14 years old (sometimes it's profitable not to grow). At that time, the rooms were decorated with embroidered canvas - tables, dressers, beds, sofas, windows, and doorways. Some even embroidered chair covers. And there were no washing powders or washing machines, only alkali from ash. Soap was in terrifying shortage. Before the bathhouse, I smeared kerosene not only on my head but also on all the furniture where insects could settle. At that time, lice, bugs, fleas, and cockroaches could quickly multiply if not for this prevention.

In the evenings, by the light of smoke lanterns (like lamps, but with kerosene), we smoothed out wrapping paper, sewed notebooks, and did homework. In a school with windows boarded up with plywood, we sat bundled up, hiding our hands in mufflers. But for some reason, we absorbed much more than our children do now. Maybe because we took exams from the fourth grade. True, we were never asked what we thought, it was important what Belinsky, Chernyshevsky, and our leaders thought, whose definitions - "thick stuff", "Dostoevsky stuff", "Essey nonsense" - were derogatory. But I still had my own opinion on everything. The teacher of the elementary grades joked, "The whole class marches out of step, only Elvira marches in step."

The newspapers, in which we wrapped our textbooks, began with a panegyric in very large print: "Glory to the great Stalin, the genius inspirer and organizer of all times and peoples. The father of teachers and railway workers, miners and steelworkers," and so on. I was interested in who this bootlick editor was! And, to my great surprise, I read that the chief editor of the newspaper "Pravda" was Stalin himself. He praises himself! But despite the praise, he immediately fell low in my eyes.

It's not surprising that in 1953, when the news "Stalin died" came, I responded, "It was time!" What struck me was not the death of the leader, but the horror in the eyes with which the female students recoiled from me upon hearing my response. But Stalin deserves credit: since his days at the seminary, he knew the power of suggestion. And speak badly about him to the collective farm workers who lived without passports, salaries, pensions, sick leave - they were ready to grab onto that person.

But let's return to the cold, hungry years. It's bitter to remember now how the drawing teacher, an artist who trained in Switzerland, collected half-eaten crusts left by the students, supposedly for the chickens, but then, forgetting himself, put them in his mouth. And we giggled.

With the pioneer leader Simochka Burova, we memorized poems, songs, plays, dances. We performed at school, at the Krinov Club, at the hospital. I had a dance with a wind-up doll, fortunately it was easy to carry me out. Only the wounded did not rejoice, but wiped away tears, applauding. I asked the Tajik who didn't let me get off his lap why he was crying. He said he had a daughter just like me at home. - "But does she have black braids?" - "Black!" - "So she's not the same." - "No, she is!" - and he cried...

I remember a low-flying plane with a Nazi swastika. The antiaircraft guns couldn't reach it. It dropped bombs on the Frunze and Lenin factories. At the Frunze factory, a bomb pierced through floors and landed in a pot of porridge without exploding. But the Lenin plant wasn't so lucky: workshops and departments collapsed onto the workers. It was believed that the bombers were targeting the automobile factory, and workers weren't allowed to leave their posts at the radio plants. After the end of the air raid, we ran to the Oka cliff to watch the automobile plant burning, coloring the sky with its glow.

Time passed, classmates grew up, blossomed, despite the strict school uniforms (dresses brought from Germany were prohibited to avoid traumatizing the daughters of the deceased). I entered a radio engineering college, received a scholarship, rented a place, and shared a trunk in the basement with cats. First in Grebeshka, then in Oshara. The scholarship wasn't enough for a more decent standard of living. I was indifferent to clothes. I could come in sandals with woolen socks in winter because my felt boots had holes, and I didn't have time to cut them from the top to sew from below, although I knew how.

To my surprise, I defended my diploma with "excellence." In Gorky, all radio plants were state-run. They offered me work in Kiev, without housing, and in sunny Alma-Ata with housing provided. Since I was tired of basements, cats, and other people's trunks instead of a bed, I agreed to Kazakhstan. But I miscalculated greatly. It wasn't the sunny capital but a virgin land, the city of Kokshetau. 40-degree frosts, winds. And when "the devil celebrates a wedding," a snow column dances, burying one side of the street, then the other. Adult life began. I was in the regional center of the virgin land. The promised housing was the office of the chief engineer, who was accommodated in a common room with other staff. Three beds were placed for young specialists and a small table. No closets. All belongings were in a suitcase under the bed. The city was as even as a chessboard. Our Directorate of Radio Broadcasting Networks (DRBN) was on the shore of the huge Lake Kopa, which didn't even require descent. Near it was Kokshe-Tau - blue mountains. Nearby was a beautiful park, a dance floor with a brass band. In the House of Culture, an amplifier for meetings was located in the orchestra pit. There, I heard Khrushchev's report on the XX Party Congress.

In the virgin lands, we harvested large grain crops, working hard without sparing ourselves. But the grain "burned." There weren't enough trucks or roads to transport it. And grain storage facilities weren't built. But they reported enthusiastically about the high yield. The leadership received bonuses and awards. I was also awarded a medal and the title of Honored Virgin Landsman. Not for the harvest, but for cartoons with poems in the newspapers. The multinational people lived together in harmony and joy.

My personal life in the virgin lands was not boring. There were many love confessions, starting from schoolchildren inviting me to their evenings. A handsome, talented radio technician demobilized from Germany, Boris Gonov, joined the workshop. He became my husband. In December 1957, our son was born. Unfortunately, family life with Boris didn't work out, and the next year, my son and I moved to the Amur region, where my sister and mother lived. In 1959, the "people's construction" began in Gorky. My mother, as a rehabilitated person, was entitled to housing. So she went to her sister, taking my son with her. After a long wait, they offered her a room in the basement, from which they removed the frozen body of an old woman from the bed. Horrified, they decided that something more comfortable would be offered to me, Zhenechka, and her.

So, Gorky. The year is 1960. "The Thaw" period has begun. I'm now eligible to work in the classified factories, and I'm hired in the design department of the Scientific Research Institute of Radio Engineering Technology, then known as the Special Design Bureau of Gas Turbine Equipment. I draw diagrams, boards, cables. Bread, cabbage, carrots in the canteen are free. On weekends, young specialists go on hiking trips. Renting a tent costs 60 kopecks, a can of stewed meat and condensed milk - 50 kopecks each. In our region, there are many beautiful lakes, rivers. Choosing a spot, we set up tents, gather firewood, and make a fire, cooking food - potatoes. Swimming, volleyball, fishing, picking mushrooms, berries, and in the evenings by the campfire - tourist songs.

At the age of 39, I got my own cozy, small, two-room apartment. What happiness it was! Housing near the "Salute" Institute. I change jobs, slightly higher salary. My son grows up, becomes interested in radio engineering, but doesn't pass the competition to enter the college. I beg the director of the radio engineering college to admit my son as a candidate, showing his radio set in the soapbox. They bring the entrance exam papers of my son, show the dictation: the word "comrade" is written with a soft sign at the end. I say, he wrote it correctly - his comrade has pigtails. The director smiled and admitted my son. After graduating from college, my son started working at the Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Engineering, enrolled in the evening department of the Polytechnic Institute, and got a three-room apartment.

On April 16, 1957, the case against my father, Ivan Konstantinovich Baskov, by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR was reviewed. The verdict of July 21, 1938, against him was canceled, and the case was terminated due to lack of evidence of a crime. Thus, my father was posthumously rehabilitated.

I wonder how my fate would have unfolded if my parents hadn't been swept away by that terrible wave of Stalinist repressions, claiming 4 million innocent lives?

Elvira Ivanovna Gonova