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Journey into the Whirlwind | Study Guide

Eugenia Ginzburg

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Journey into the Whirlwind | Part 1, Chapters 10–12 | Summary



Chapter 10: That Day

Genia Ginzburg spends the next eight days at home, waiting for the next event to happen. She unrealistically clutches onto the hope she and her husband, Paul Aksyonov, can go to Moscow and find someone to help her. They burn books, including one written by Joseph Stalin and now illegal. When a second secretary of the municipal committee in Kazan is arrested, Paul is "even more puzzled and shaken" than by his wife's expulsion from the Communist Party. He doubts the secretary is "an enemy of the people" as charged, and believes it to be "a misunderstanding of some sort, temporary and ludicrous."

On February 15, 1937, Captain Vevers, head of the NKVD (Soviet secret police organization) department of special political affairs, summons Genia to the Kazan office to clear up the situation. Genia wants to stop at her mother's first, but Paul urges her to go immediately and finish with the meeting. When she leaves the house, she hears the sound of the door as it "banged shut." Decades later, she can still hear the door she was "never again to open."

As Paul and Genia walk to the Party's offices, Genia expresses her thought that this may be the last time they walk together, but Paul disputes her opinion. He says the Party officials merely "want some information," and then she will be home. Genia asserts otherwise, saying she is now a state criminal. Again Paul disagrees, telling her if the Party "arrested people like [her] they'd have to lock up the whole Party." Genia presciently remarks, "I sometimes have the crazy idea that that's what they mean to do." Surprisingly, Paul agrees that innocent people have been arrested, thus making her feel she and her husband are "once again of one mind." As she enters the building, she hears Paul call out her name. She turns and sees his anguished face, with the "haunted look of a baited animal, of a harried and exhausted human being."

Chapter 11: Captain Vevers

Genia is momentarily lulled into thinking things may turn out well when she receives a pass and a staff member's friendly greeting. Once she sees Captain Vevers, however, her hope dies. His eyes reflect "cynicism, cruelty, and anticipation of the pleasure of torturing a victim." Vevers claims she belonged to a secret terrorist organization with other Red Tartary editorial staff members, and her husband has disowned her. When Genia demands to see his supervisor, Vevers summons a woman who searches her. Then a man arrives to take her to the cells in the building's cellars.

Chapter 12: The Cellars at "Black Lake"

A guard leads Genia to the cellars below the Black Lake Street offices into a narrow passage lined with "bolted and padlocked doors." Although filled with terror, she realizes that "behind these doors were friends of mine, Communists who had been cast down into hell before me." Expecting solitary confinement, she is pleased to discover she has a cellmate in Cell Number 3. Lyama Shepel is a 22-year-old Russian woman with blonde hair and an expensive sealskin coat. She worked as a typist for the Chinese–Far Eastern Railway (CFER) and then moved with her family to Zelenodolsk in the Soviet Union. Like many former CFER workers, she (along with her brother and father) was arrested, allegedly for being a spy for the Japanese or Manchurian Secret Services.

Lyama fills Genia in on the prison culture and rules. After dinner they are allowed to walk to the bathroom, single file. This walk provides an opportunity to communicate with others through devious means. For example, a prisoner can click her heels to communicate she is a woman, or cough with the hopes someone will recognize her or write messages in scattered tooth powder on a shelf in the bathroom. Prisoners also communicate by tapping on the wall. In these ways, they "make contact" and pass information.


Genia Ginzburg knows she is doomed, but like every person awaiting a legal decision, she hangs onto the shred of hope for an intervention that will change the direction of her case. No longer naive, she knows something is very wrong in the Communist Party. Taking longer to reach the same conclusion, her husband, Paul Aksyonov, experiences his first major doubt when a second secretary is arrested. That event hits too close to home. If this could happen to a member of the municipal committee, it could happen to him. But he numbs himself to this fear and hangs on to the belief things will eventually work out. Genia knows better and bids Paul goodbye, knowing life as they know it is over. He fails to acknowledge her realistic view, finding the magnitude of such events inconceivable.

At Captain Vevers's office Genia gets her first realistic look at the mind-set of the interrogators. Not only does Vevers make false charges and refuse to consider her protestations of innocence, he seems to delight in doing so. Vevers's hostile expression unnerves her as she looks at his eyes "that made not the slightest attempt to conceal their cynicism, cruelty, and anticipation of torturing a victim." She learns later that the expression is a contrived one all interrogators learned and practiced in the mirror to intimidate the accused. Because she is writing a memoir, she writes from the perspective of knowledge gleaned decades later. At the time, however, she takes his hostility personally, not realizing she, as an individual, does not matter to her interrogators.

Once imprisoned, Genia deals with her new reality. She no longer suffers the anxiety and fear that have plagued her for the past two-and-a-half months. She knows she is among friends, other Communist Party members who have been arrested before her, and has nothing to fear from them. Lyama Shepel is someone new, however, outside her sphere of knowledge. She realizes she has led a sheltered and narrow life as a scholar and intellectual, and is amazed to discover after less than a day that Lyama feels "like a sister to [her]," even though she is someone whose world experiences Genia never heard of. Chapter 12 thus reveals a new side of Genia. Her openness and willingness to accept people from all walks of life will serve her well during her years of imprisonment.

Genia's descriptions of ordinary events and universal emotions and thoughts help make her memoir appeal to many readers. For example, in Chapter 12 she describes how she reads signs in her environment to try to predict what will happen when she meets with Captain Vevers. Readers do not have to be on their way to face a political interrogator to understand this experience. Any reader can identify with similar situations to understand how people look for clues in their environment in an attempt to predict the outcome of an uncomfortable situation.

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