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Journey into the Whirlwind | Study Guide

Eugenia Ginzburg

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Journey into the Whirlwind | Part 1, Chapters 22–24 | Summary



Chapter 22: Tukhachevsky and Others

One summer morning the prisoners hear fragments of news broadcasts from outside the prison and know "something's up." Later that day they get a new cellmate, Zinaida (Zina) Abramova, whose husband is "head of the Council of People's Commissars of the Tartar Republic." Zinaida is "shocked and almost demented with terror," convinced she will be freed shortly. Although Genia Ginzburg doesn't like Zina because of her "high-and-mighty ways," she reaches out to her, remembering how Lyama Shepel helped make her feel comfortable her first day in prison. Zina, however, reacts to Genia "as to a serpent's bite." She shrieks wildly and backs away from Genia, fearful the warder may see them through the peephole and think they are "old friends. Genia is too dangerous to associate with.

Sometime later, interrogators come for Zina. She thinks she is being released, but several hours later she returns, beaten and bloodied, while the other cellmates are in the washroom. They see her bruised body on the floor when they return—"the first case ... of a woman being beaten during interrogation"—and realize beating women is now permissible. After being spiteful to Zina, who fears being shot, Genia regrets her words and offers to sit with Zina and calm her. When Genia asks what had happened that morning, Zina refuses to reveal any news other than Tukhachevsky and all the other heads of a regional command have been arrested. Eventually, Genia calms her by getting her to talk about her children.

Chapter 23: To Moscow

The next day Genia learns every member of the Tartary government is in prison, all Communist Party leaders in Irkutsk have been arrested, and physical torture of prisoners has been approved. She is called for an interrogation at Black Lake Street, where she learns her case is being transferred to the military tribunal of the Supreme Court, and she will be sent to Moscow for the trial. Her crimes are violations of Article 58, sections 8 and 11 of the legal code. Back in her cell a cellmate tells her section 8 means she is "being charged with terrorism." Section 11 "applies to groups. Membership in a terrorist group." Both carry a "minimum penalty ... of ten years of hard labor" and a maximum penalty of death.

After two months at the prison in Krasin Street Genia will be leaving. Her cellmates give her a nice send-off. Having heard prisoners were allowed to see their family before deportation, Genia looks forward to seeing her children and mother. She is not allowed a visit, however, and reflects years later she would never see her son Alyosha or her mother again.

Chapter 24: Transfer

Genia is transferred to the Moscow prison to await her hearing before the military tribunal. Several other prisoners are also being transferred, including Ira Yegereva. They meet two other women in the corridor on their way to the Black Maria transport truck. Julia Karepova is a biologist and most likely involved in the same case as Ira. Rimma Faridova is a historian who cheerfully informs Genia she was initially charged with being a Trotskyist, but because that quota was filled she was charged with being a bourgeois nationalist. Her exuberance and seeming lack of concern about her situation puzzle Genia. She later learns Rimma has "given the interrogators everything they wanted" in exchange for a reduced sentence and permission to receive packages. She is not the only one, as Julia tells Genia how Slepkov, a brilliant scholar and someone Genia always considered kind, named over 150 people, including her, as accomplices in his so-called terrorist scheme.

The prisoners board a train for Moscow. Genia is aware of what she is leaving behind: her children at the mercy of the NKVD (Soviet secret police), her mother, her university, and her "clean and happy life full of the consciousness of having chosen the right way." On the train Tsarevsky informs the prisoners of the rules. Genia notices a change in him since he interrogated her. His eyes now show fear. Later she learns that purges of the NKVD have begun, and Tsarevsky would be arrested shortly after their journey. He later hangs himself in prison after tapping to his neighbors not to sign anything. Major Yelshin, another former interrogator, is on the train. He, too, will be arrested during the NKVD purges. At the time, though, the guards enjoy the status of their position and eat a fine meal on the train. At one of the stops Ira persuades Tsarevsky to use her money to purchase fresh raspberries. He complies, and the women "snatch one last morsel from the banquet of life."


Chapter 22 continues to develop the theme of dehumanization versus humanity. For example, Zinaida (Zina) Abramova, effectively indoctrinated in Communist Party rhetoric, initially rejects any comfort from Genia, fearful of worsening her situation. By labeling individuals as "enemies of the people," the government is able to get other citizens to shun them and treat them as less than human. Most prisoners, on the other hand, are harder to control because they know their fellow prisoners are not guilty of the crimes they have been charged with, nor are they willing to shun others; to do so would limit their interactions with the already limited number of people in their world. Zina does not yet realize this, even after she is beaten. The physical violence only intensifies her willingness to go along with the people in control. She assumes she can avoid being killed if she does not do anything wrong, such as associate with known enemies of the state, even though she is locked in a cell with them.

The purge is widening as it sweeps up people higher within the ruling elite. It is also intensifying, as physical torture is now permitted. Genia reflects (after the passage of time) on how little she knew of what was going on, but she understood even then the lower members of the Party, like her, would be only a footnote in history beneath the names of more important figures arrested and imprisoned.

Genia's case is progressing, although she still has some expectations of being let off. She knows she will receive a sentence of at least 10 years but has refused to recognize she could receive the death penalty. By refusing to consider the worst, she keeps functioning and doesn't think about the worst that could happen to her.

Her reflection in Chapter 23 that she would never again see her elder son or mother shows how deeply this deprivation has affected her. Even though she was imprisoned, she was in Kazan and thus had hopes of seeing her children and mother. After she leaves for Moscow, the connection of proximity is severed, and the separation from her mother and Alyosha is complete.

The separation becomes real in Chapter 24 when Genia actually leaves Kazan forever. The departure is clearly a turning point, as she reflects while writing the memoir. Unknown to her, Stalin was escalating purges, even eliminating members of the NKVD (Soviet secret police). Genia cannot understand how others willingly gave up names of innocent people for their own benefit, as Rimma Faridova and Slepkov did. She describes Rimma's act as taking 30 pieces of silver, an allusion to Judas Iscariot who was paid that amount after asking the chief priests how much they would pay him to deliver Jesus to them. Like Judas, Rimma has betrayed someone close to her—her husband—who was arrested and killed. Nor can Genia fathom Slepkov's self-serving actions, which seem out of character. With her high moral character, Genia would rather suffer any punishment than be the cause of another person's unjust punishment. This choice reveals more about her humanity, and how others have strayed from theirs either out of self-interest or mortal fear.

One of the author's techniques is to interject historical information she acquired after her experience to show their correspondence with her own situation. For example, Genia notices fear in Tsarevsky's face, and he seems rattled. Although at the time she has no idea why, she later learns "the purge of the NKVD had begun." Whether these observations are accurate and were indeed seen at the time or whether they are a storytelling device is something readers will decide for themselves.

The theme of hope is also further developed. Faced with a proceeding that could result in their deaths, Genia and her fellow women companions in the Black Maria transport truck refuse to believe the worst—a death sentence—will happen. They consider various rationales to suggest they will not be sentenced to death, showing their overriding hope for a life-affirming outcome. To have acknowledged and given in to the likelihood they would be killed would have eliminated every ounce of hope they possessed and made their remaining time unbearable. Instead, they choose to believe it could not happen.

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