Journey into the Whirlwind | Study Guide

Eugenia Ginzburg

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Journey into the Whirlwind | Part 1, Chapters 37–39 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 37: The Underground Punishment Cell

On December 1, 1937, the third anniversary of Sergei Kirov's death, Genia is placed in an underground punishment cell for five days. The Nabob informs her of her charge: "continuing counterrevolutionary activity in prison by writing her name on the washroom wall," something Genia never did. The Nabob tells her to sign a book confirming her offense, which Genia refuses to do. Genia catches the Nabob's comment that this is an act of continuing her counterrevolutionary activities. She realizes if she signs, she could be required to have a new trial, which could result in a new sentence, including death.

When she is taken to the punishment cell, the Nabob begins to undress her and touches her breast. Genia shouts and struggles against him, but to no avail. He twists her arm back, causing a "sharp pain so excruciating" she nearly loses consciousness." He binds her hands, and a female warder helps undress her. The punishment cell is bitter cold, damp, dark, and rat infested. She is "almost naked" with new clothing—the scraps of a soldier's greasy overcoat and oversize sandals.

Genia refuses to eat the bread given to her each day and is threatened with the possibility of a new trial if she continues to resist; the refusal to eat is considered a continuing counterrevolutionary activity. One of the kinder warders brings her water, making her feel "more like a human being and not a grimy, hunted animal." She recites poetry to herself in an effort to retain her sanity. By the time she is let out of the punishment cell, she has frostbite on one foot.

Chapter 38: Comunista Italiana

Still in the punishment cell, Genia continues to refuse bread, despite the prison governor's visit in which he warns her that refusal could be considered counterrevolutionary activity. She refuses to speak to him. On her fourth day she hears the sounds of a woman resisting and crying as she is dragged into a nearby cell. The sounds fill Genia with terror, and she fears she, too, will "start screaming ... and from that it could only be a step to madness." At one point the warder Yaroslavsky opens her window and tells her she'll be back in her own cell the next day. She appreciates his kind words and asks what is happening to the crying woman. He informs her she is a foreigner and "just can't take it." He suddenly shuts the window. Genia then hears the sounds of the Italian woman's door open and a slithering sound. She is being hosed down with freezing water and beaten. The woman's wails eventually turn into gasps and "a tiny shrill sound," before ending.

Chapter 39: "Next Year in Jerusalem"

As 1937 draws to an end, Genia muses about the elections being held under a new constitution. She wonders if she would vote for a Soviet system if she were able to vote. She thinks of "the revolution which had transformed [her] world" and everything the Soviet system gave her that made her who she is—including her present confinement in one of its prisons. She wonders, "What in God's name has happened to us all?"

She and Julia Karepova prepare for a private celebration of the New Year by stashing away sugar and butter. New books from the library have been halted, so they reread the books already delivered. A book of Ilya Selvinsky's poems contains a poem about the Jewish people. Genia finds special meaning in the lines that say no matter whether persons are "poor and persecuted," on New Year's Eve they will cry, "Next year in Jerusalem." This phrase expresses the Jewish people's hope to be in the Promised Land in the New Year. It gives hope to Genia and Julia as well. Believing their imprisonment will end within the year, they, too, will be "in Jerusalem."

Analysis

These chapters show Genia Ginzburg's resilience and determination to hold on to her sanity. She continues to hope for imminent release, long before the end of her sentence. Chapter 37 reveals the cruelty of the prison system and what she must face. Genia is tortured by being placed in an underground punishment cell and threatened with the prospect of a new trial that could result in a death sentence. A model prisoner who causes no trouble, Genia cannot understand the purpose of inflicting more punishment on her. The alleged offense was made up, probably to intimidate all the prisoners and gain compliance, and perhaps as an outlet for sadism.

Chapter 38 shows the juxtaposition of torture and kindness. While a fellow prisoner, an Italian woman, is being tortured, two prison warders extend kindness to Genia. Although she is grateful for their kindness, hearing another human being tortured leaves an indelible impression on her, and she still can hear the screams decades later. Despite knowing the risks of what can happen to her—including a new trial—Genia holds fast to her integrity and refuses to take bread or speak to the prison governor. It seems as if she thinks that to bend on these two things would be to submit to the system and give her silent consent to their false accusations.

Genia's daily life improves in Chapter 39. She is not subject to torture or put in punishment cells, and she and Julia Karepova covertly celebrate the New Year. Their little celebration represents their commitment to hope and resilience, for "in defiance of logic and common sense, we were confident that before the year was out we would be 'in Jerusalem.'" Genia's ability to endure the punishment cell and sounds of torture push her close to the edge, but she perseveres, blissfully unaware she will not be released soon.

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