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Journey into the Whirlwind | Study Guide

Eugenia Ginzburg

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Journey into the Whirlwind | Part 1, Chapters 4–6 | Summary



Chapter 4: The Snowball

One spring day in 1935 Genia Ginzburg and her husband, Paul Aksyonov, visit Livadia, the regional committee's villa outside of Kazan. There she is introduced to Comrade Beylin, the new chairman of the bureau of Party political control, not knowing he has her file on his desk and soon will become her first interrogator. A few days later she is summoned to his office and questioned about her role in reviewing Nikolay Elvov's article and failure to admit guilt for her inaction. Her failure to act against Professor Elvov is considered "tolerance towards anti-Party elements," which equates to taking up arms against the Party, Beylin informs her.

Beylin summons Genia to his office every day and questions her. Soon he is joined by a colleague, whom Genia mentally calls Malyuta—the name of one of Ivan the Terrible's henchmen. For two months the men question her; Malyuta hurling accusations at her and Beylin quietly urging Genia to admit her guilt. Genia fears she is "on the verge of a nervous breakdown" and contemplates suicide.

Later, her outlook changes after the suicide of Pitkovskaya, a loyal Communist and worker in the schools department of the regional committee. Pitkovskaya's husband was briefly involved with a group other than the Communist Party in 1926. In the autumn of 1935, he is arrested for his previous association with the opposition. Pitkovskaya, "utterly devoted to the ideals of her militant youth," denounces him and pledges her—and her son's—loyalty to the Party, but it does her no good. She loses her job and is accused of associating with an enemy. Unable to support herself, she falls on hard times. Her son is expelled from school, and most of the community shuns her. Genia gives her food and comfort whenever she shows up at her door, but Paul warns her this association could harm her own case. "After writing a letter full of love and devotion" to Stalin and asking "to be remembered as a Communist," Pitkovskaya commits suicide.

Genia is determined to "put up a fight. They may kill me ... but I won't help them." In August of 1935 she is found guilty of "having compromised with hostile elements" and receives a severe reprimand and warning. She also loses her teaching license.

Chapter 5: There's No One So Silly as a Clever Man

Stripped of her teaching license, Genia is bereft as the new school year starts. As she sits at home in September 1935, her mother-in-law, Avdotya Vasilyevna Aksyonova, who lives with the family, calls her to the door. A messenger boy hands her a bouquet of flowers with a note from the prior year's students. Genia bursts into tears.

Her mother-in-law warns Genia that the authorities are setting a trap and advises her to leave, while she still has the chance, and go to Pokrovskoye, the village where they lived before moving to Kazan. But Genia wants to stay and prove her innocence. When Avdotya tells her, "There's no one so silly as a clever man," Genia dismisses her admonition. After all, she is well educated and clever, whereas her mother-in-law "is a simple peasant."

When Genia goes to Moscow to defend herself, she encounters an old acquaintance: Dikovitsky, a doctor. Accused of similar offenses, Dikovitsky tells Genia he thinks attempts to prove their innocence will be folly. Certain that nothing they do will help their cases, he suggests they run off with a group of "Gipsies"—he is of Gipsy origin—and lie low until things change. Another option he suggests is to have their deaths announced in the newspaper, which would certainly make the investigators close their cases. Determined to prove her innocence through the proper channels, Genia thinks the doctor's and her mother-in-law's suggestions are ridiculous. Years later, however, as she reflects on the suggestions, she realizes many people did save themselves by moving to "distant and exotic regions." Genia admits her illiterate mother-in-law was far wiser than she.

Chapter 6: My Last Year

This chapter title marks the "last year of [Genia's] former existence, which came to an end in February, 1937." Genia spends much of 1936 and the first month or two of 1937 in Moscow appealing her case. During one of her trips to Moscow, she sees Stalin and looks at him "without any sense of hero worship" and with a "feeling of suppressed hostility." Others with her react differently—a man looks at Stalin with "an expression of religious fervor"; an awestruck woman says, "I have seen Stalin. Now I can die."

After she meets with Sidorov, a political commissar and Party board member investigating her case, Genia's situation seems to improve. He calls one of the charges ludicrous and promises to have her penalty reduced. In November 1936, she learns her "severe reprimand and warning" has been amended to "a severe reprimand." Shortly after receiving this news, however, Genia is summoned back to Moscow. She later learns Comrade Beylin has objected to her reduced sentence; her original sentence has been reinstated and new charges added. The man to whom Beylin complained is Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, editor of the four-volume textbook History of the All-Union Communist Party and the individual responsible for including Nikolay Elvov's article in this work.


Genia Ginzburg titles each of these chapters to focus on a specific highlight during the period that led to her arrest and imprisonment. For example, Chapter 4's title, "The Snowball," describes how a mere inquiry into her actions for failing to speak out snowballs into more serious charges. Baffled by the accusations against her, she tries to deal with the incessant questioning by asserting and reasserting her loyalty to the Communist Party and her innocence of wrongdoing. Yet no matter what she says, Comrade Beylin seems to have a planned agenda, and his questions snowball as he works toward his predetermined outcome. The addition of "Malyuta" during the interrogation establishes a good cop–bad cop scenario, further unnerving Genia, who is young and loyal but naive and headstrong.

Determined to fight the charges, she begins—in retrospect—to realize she is in a situation that defies common sense, logic, and facts. She is also just starting to consider saving her own skin at the expense of others. While she does associate with Pitkovskaya (considered an enemy of the Party), she considers limiting contact to avoid guilt by association. This kind of intimidation is one of the ways Joseph Stalin exerted such tight control over the citizens. People were unwilling to defend accused colleagues, friends, family members, or other Party members for fear of their own safety. Not only did they not defend others, they avoided contact with them, increasing the accused individuals' isolation and lack of support. This enforced isolation rendered the accused powerless and everyone else compliant with Stalin's overall goal of control.

Genia is a product of the Communist Party. About 13 years old at the time of the 1917 Revolution, she was raised in an atmosphere of strong Communist ideology following the revolution, and as an adult she eagerly embraces it. It enabled her to receive an education and training as a teacher, and shaped her into an intellectual. So steeped in Party ideology, she cannot fathom the Party betraying her, for it represents the highest ideals: honesty, truth, and justice. Her life and identity are entwined with the Party, and this allegiance explains why she tells her mother-in-law, Avdotya Vasilyevna Aksyonova, she cannot leave Kazan. Despite being warned that her situation may not turn out as she expects, she cannot believe the warnings. Only decades later does she realize that both her intellectualism and the Party betrayed her. Swept up in ideology and belief in her so-called superior intelligence, she could not see reality. A simple peasant, her mother-in-law possesses more street smarts than her educated daughter-in-law. While Genia has been blinded by Party indoctrination, her mother-in-law has far more common sense and an open mind.

The hypocrisy of the Party is clear to Genia years later. For example, she is accused of being an enemy of the people—a term firmly fixed by 1937—for not faulting Professor Nikolay Elvov for an article that included an interpretation about revolution that later conflicted with Stalin's view. The case shows a dark and fearsome situational irony, for the man responsible for making the decision to include the article becomes one of the decision-makers in her appeal. He decides she is an enemy of the people for doing something similar to what he himself has done. Even when it happens, she is unable to accept the incongruity of this situation, though she is aware of it. Also, she is unable to moderate her Party allegiance. Despite sensing great danger to come, she ignores a second person's advice to flee, thereby missing her last chance to evade imprisonment.

Chapter 6 introduces Stalin's cult of personality. Stalin cultivated public adoration and hero worship to the point that many believed he was omnipotent and godlike. Genia never has strong feelings for him, but when she visits Moscow and sees him, she notices that other people do.

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