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Journey into the Whirlwind | Study Guide

Eugenia Ginzburg

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Journey into the Whirlwind | Part 1, Chapters 13–15 | Summary



Chapter 13: The Investigators Have Conclusive Evidence

During her first night in the Black Lake Street cellars, Genia Ginzburg is taken to an office and interrogated. Her first interrogator, Livanov, seems an innocuous civil servant with "a little more than the usual liking for red tape"—momentarily raising Genia's hope she might be able to leave the prison. He quietly asks Genia questions and records her answers before asking her to sign the record sheet. When Genia reviews it, she notices that her answers have not been recorded accurately. Instead of writing what she said, such as having known Professor Nikolay Elvov since 1932, Livanov wrote that she has "known the Trotskyist Elvov since 1932." Genia demands Livanov record exactly what she has said and refrain from interjecting his own words. A second interrogator, State Security Lieutenant Tsarevsky, taunts Genia and tells her the regional committee has approved her arrest, and her husband, Paul Aksyonov, has also been arrested and confessed. Elvov, too, has confessed and "confirmed all the evidence against [her]."

Genia asks for Elvov to be brought in so she can confront him and hear him describe her so-called wrongdoings, but she is denied. Incensed, she demands to see Tsarevsky's supervisor and asserts, "People can't be treated like dirt" in a Soviet institution. Her words are met with laughter. Tsarevsky tells her that enemies of the people are not people, and if she does not sign the statement she will be shot.

Livanov gently urges Genia to sign, saying it will make things easier for her and allow her some privileges, such as receiving packages and visits with her husband and children. After several hours of questioning, Genia realizes the questioning is a carefully coordinated good cop–bad cop routine. Refusing to sign, she is sent back to the cellars, where she is glad to go to.

Chapter 14: Stick and Carrot

Every day Genia is brought to an office and interrogated by Livanov or Tsarevsky, or both. After a week she is brought to a different office, with much nicer furnishings. The window covering has been drawn back and she can see the Black Lake Park and its skating rink. It is where her children skate, and she is transfixed by the sight. A new interrogator, Major Yelshin, tells her "in the sort of voice he might have used at a tea party" that her two sons must be at the park. Mentioning their names creates a new emotional reaction in Genia, and she breaks out crying.

Yelshin attempts to comfort her and begins an interrogation much different from that of her predecessors. He tells her how "he was sure she had made a mistake in taking up teaching and researching." He believes she is a "born writer" and her "impulsive, emotional nature" is what caused her to be "taken in by the bogus romanticism of that wretched underground." He quickly gets to the point: he attributes her wrongdoings to youthful impulsiveness and wants her to admit she made a youthful mistake, name her associates, and sign a record. Then she can go home to her children, who send their love. He informs her he spoke to her husband the day before, and he was unhappy she was refusing to cooperate and acting so "un-Soviet."

Genia does not fall for this approach. Eventually, he sets paper and a pen in front of her and tells her to write a statement about everything she did, including names of ringleaders and those people at the university and newspaper offices hostile to the Communist Party. After telling him she is not a fiction writer, Genia spends hours chronicling what has happened to her since first being questioned. She describes illegal investigation methods and the conduct of her investigators. A sleepy Yelshin calls for reinforcement. Tsarevsky arrives and reaches for his revolver. He doesn't shoot her, though, as that was before investigators "were authorized not only to curse and threaten their victims but to use physical torture."

Chapter 15: The Walls Come to Life

The next week the interrogations stop. Genia is relieved, though her cellmate, Lyama Shepel, tells her it is part of the procedure. The interrogators want the prisoners to grow so anxious with being isolated, they will sign anything. Genia and Lyama use this reprieve to learn more about their neighboring prisoners. Genia realizes a prisoner nearby is sending a message by tapping sounds and leaving the word Greetings written in powder in the bathroom. She identifies the corresponding sounds and letters. Then one night she "remembers with amazing accuracy" a page from a memoir that contains "the clue to the prison alphabet." She identifies all the sounds of the prison alphabet and starts communicating with her neighbor, Garey Sagidullin, a 40-year-old Leninist arrested in 1933.

Sagidullin taps messages telling Genia about the camps, the prisons, the fates of people arrested in 1933 and 1935, and his views on the political situation. He believes Joseph Stalin's plan is "physical extermination of all the best people in the Party" to prevent them from standing in his way as he establishes a dictatorship. He advises Genia to denounce Stalin and to name others who do not support him. They will all be rounded up, but if everyone denounces him, there will be too many for the authorities to deal with and they will have to hold a special congress. He acknowledges that Genia—and the others—might die doing this but believes it's the only way to save the Communist Party.

Genia declines Sagidullin's advice, still believing in the Communist Party despite strong doubts about Stalin. She also supports the Party's priorities: "industrializing the country and collectivizing the land." She cannot turn in innocent people, knowing harm would come to them. Most of all she knows she is unable to make a careful analysis of the situation, and thus decides to follow her conscience. She will speak honestly about herself and say nothing untrue about anyone else, refusing to "be taken in by Jesuitical arguments which justified lies and fratricide."


In these chapters Genia Ginzburg, although far less naive, still has not fully realized the impossibility of her situation. Continuing to believe in Communist Party ideals, she demands a stenographer and an opportunity to speak with State Security Lieutenant Tsarevsky's boss, as she insists people should not be treated like dirt. Being a Communist is as integral to Genia's identity as being a woman and mother, and she cannot perceive that other Communists would act like her interrogators have been acting. She is learning quickly, though, as she comes to view her interrogators as inhuman and cruel. Although she has long known the charges against her were manufactured, she still expects the system to work, as demonstrated by her request to face her accuser. The judicial system, however, is no longer in place. The NKVD is in charge of interrogations and does not need to follow any rules but its own.

In Chapter 13 the interrogators again use the good cop–bad cop technique to try to get her to sign an admission of guilt. Genia refuses to sign; doing so goes against her nature and perception of herself as honest and honorable. That perception is as important to her as her freedom, for she has been raised on the passionate ideology of the Communist Party following the 1917 revolution. She wants to remain true to the ideals and beliefs instilled in her since her youth.

When Interrogator Livanov's and Tsarevsky's "stick" approach fails, Yelshin offers a "carrot"—a plausible explanation to excuse her unintentional actions against the Communist Party. She can agree to being young and having been "carried away. Anyone can make a mistake." But Genia is no more willing to lie about inadvertently being swept into something than to admit she committed a crime by failing to speak out against Professor Nikolay Elvov. She holds fast to her honesty rather than take the opportunity for leniency.

Being honest and honorable is important to Genia. To accept the carrot she would have to make false statements and incriminate innocent people. She is unwilling to do so and thus considers her interrogators inhuman because of their willingness to be part of a system that knowingly punishes and denies people freedom, despite evidence of wrongdoing. In Chapter 14 she denounces those involved in this wide-scale purge for willingly being a part of it, for willingly following directions to be cruel and sadistic. She believes the Party members should commit suicide rather than be a part of it.

These chapters also further develop the theme of honesty versus leniency. Genia vows she will be true to herself—not to save herself but to follow her conscience and do what she believes is right—even if it conflicts with the Party's goals or its survival. Her mention of a Jesuitical argument is a reference to a specific type of argument promoted by the Jesuits, a Roman Catholic order of priests known for scholarship. This type of argument need not be based on truth; instead, it could slant the truth to illustrate a point or make a case. For example, a person could say they found money instead of saying they picked money off a store's floor after forcing a cashier to open the register at gunpoint, resulting in cash being dropped on the floor.

Genia's views about the Party are changing. Just a few months ago she described herself as willing to die for the Party. In Chapter 16, when Garey Sagidullin gives her a means to save the Party, she is unwilling to do so (even though she may die for it), as it involves harming others. This realization is one of the first ruptures in her faith in the Communist Party. Although she does not fully understand it yet, her own values are becoming more important than the Party's ideology as she breaks away from years of indoctrination.

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