The Terror in Russia : Part 1, Chapter 1, Part B : Ill-treatment and Tortures
(1842 - 1921) ~ Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism : As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From : Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "Which side will you take? For the law and against justice, or for justice and against the law?" (From : "An Appeal to the Young," by Peter Kropotkin, 1880.)
• "As to parliamentary rule, and representative government altogether... It is becoming evident that it is merely stupid to elect a few men, and to entrust them with the task of making laws on all possible subjects, of which subject most of them are utterly ignorant." (From : "Process Under Socialism," by Peter Kropotkin, 188....)
• "...the strength of Anarchy lies precisely in that it understands all human faculties and all passions, and ignores none..." (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
Part 1, Chapter 1, Part B
Many pages could be covered with the description of the ill-treatment and the tortures in different prisons of Russia. Only some striking instances, however, can be mentioned here.
It is known through the daily Press that there were so many complaints about the misrule of the head of the Moscow police, General Rheinbot, that a special Commission was sent out by the Senate, under Senator Garin, to inquire into the affair. The head of the police just mentioned has been dismissed ; perhaps he will be brought before a Court, and striking instances arising out of his misrule have already been communicated more or less officially to the daily Press.1 Thus, one of the witnesses, M. Maximoff, examined by the Commission, who had been kept in one of the lock-ups the Moscow police, deposed as follows:--
"Here I saw the most brutal treatment of the arrested people. The policemen used to beat those whom they would arrest as much as they liked....It was terrible to live there day by day, and to think that either I would be killed too, or I myself would perhaps become a murderer in resisting these men....They used to beat people in an awful way, sometimes quite innocent men, such, for instance, as an official of the Institution of the Empress Marie, Andrei Gavrilovitch Surkoff. He refused to enter a dark room where they wanted to put him, so they began to beat him with the butt-ends of their rifles, on the head, in the stomach,...everywhere. Finally, he grew wild and seized the nose of the secret agent, Orloff, with his teeth. Only then did they stop. It was then ten o'clock, and at midnight he had been sent to lunatic asylum, and as far as I know he is quite mad by this time."
The names of the agents of the secret police who used thus to treat prisoners are given in full by the witness. The same witness describes a most terrible case of a woman who was arrested on suspicion of robbery ; she would not declare herself guilty.
"The agent of the secret police, Lyndin, was examining a young woman suspected of robbery. She explained how she and the watchman were tied by the robbers. Lyndin did not believe her, and began to beat her with his fists in the breast, so that blood flowed from her mouth, and she fell in a swoon ; a few hours later she had a terrible internal hæmorrhage. We saw that beating and we could not stand it. I shouted to Lyndin: 'Scoundrel that you are why do you kill a human being?' Whereupon he took out his revolver and threatened to shoot me, but I and another prisoner began to break the partition which separated us. Then they stopped the beating. Three days later they arrested the real robbers, and it was discovered that the woman was absolutely innocent."
It is very seldom that such facts are brought before the Courts. Still it happens occasionally, and then the most scandalous state of affairs is sometimes revealed. Thus in Alexandria, government of Kherson, the present head of the Investigation Department of the police of this district, a certain Tchernyavsky, while he was not yet promoted to that post and was a simple police officer, aided by several prisoners whom he had trained to be his executioners, actually tortured the common law prisoners under arrest. At last the fact leaked out, and the governor of the province ordered an inquiry to be held, whereupon a long succession of witnesses came to testify that they had been fearfully beaten in prison while they were under arrest, and not only beaten, but their hair was pulled out, wounds were inflicted by sharp needles, even the fire torture was resorted to. A medical examination of these witnesses fully confirmed the fact that several of them had broken ribs, broken tympanums, and other serious wounds. However, Tchernyavsky was not dismissed from prison service ; he was only transferred to the political Investigation Department. The inquiry, however, is continuing, and there is a vague hope that this time the affair may not be hushed up.2
In March, 1909, in the city of Dvinsk, the police official Leiko and two of his subordinates were prosecuted for tortures practiced at the police-station.3 But the prosecutions are of no use, as all these torturers know well that they have the full approval of the Union of Russian Men, and as soon as this Union applies to the Czar, asking him to pardon them, they will be pardoned.
At Vorónezh, on March 5th last, the prisoner Katasánoff, who had been brought to the psychial hospital of the zemstvo, died from wounds inflicted upon him by the local prison administration.4
Tortures are so habitual in the Ekaterinosláv prison that according to the testimony of M. Antónoff, who was kept in that prison and has related his experiences in the St. Petersburg newspaper Ryech, November 21, 1908, "beating and thrashing of the prisoners was continued even upon those who were to be executed in a few days. Thus, the prisoner Gutmacher was beaten with sticks and thrown on the floor, and kicked by the warders down to the very day when he was hanged." This is so habitual that the ex-deputy of the Second Duma, M. Lomtatidze, in a letter which he wrote to the members of the present Duma and which was reproduced by all the Russian newspapers, communicated following fact:--
"Such treatment," he wrote, "has become so habitual that one anarchist-communist, Sinkóff, having been condemned to death, applied to the President of the Court Martial, asking him to co communicate with the respective prison authorities to ensure that he, Sinkóff, should not be beaten before being hanged, and he promised, in his turn, to march to the scaffold without saying a word, a without bidding his last farewell to the other prisoners. The President of the Court Martial promised to do so, and I think kept his word."5
The daily Russian papers having mentioned several cases of ill-treatment of the prisoners, especially in the Algachí and Akatúi prisons of Eastern Siberia, as also the ill-treatment of prisoners in the Schlüssellburg, where they are kept in chains, even in those cases in which this is contrary to law, and the cold in the cells is so intense that the prisoners cannot sleep otherwise than in their sheepskins, the head of the prison administration, M. Khruleff, has lately issued a circular, in which he forbids the prison authorities to treat the prisoners brutally, as they are doing; but this circular will evidently remain a dead letter. In the meantime the prisoners are resorting to the only means of protest which they have at their disposal, that is, the famine strike, which consists refusing to take any food. Such a strike took place in April last at the St. Petersburg House of Correction, where six hundred prisoners refused all food for a number of days, and in Kresty prison, also at St. Petersburg.
In Tobolsk, on March 18, 1908, thirteen prisoners were hanged for an "insurrection." The head of the military guard, however, told the Court that there was absolutely no insurrection whatever, and that, if he had been allowed to do so, he would have taken all the prisoners to the punishment cells without the slightest resistance on their part; but the warders jumped upon them, using their rifles and shooting them down. This was the cause of the scuffle which followed, and for which thirteen men have been executed.
One of the most scandalous affairs took place in the Astrakhan prison; it has been brought before a Court, and therefore its details have become known. The governor of that prison was a certain Schéffer. One of the prisoners, Iv´noff, was killed by the warders. The prison doctor gave a testimony of natural death, and the man was buried. However, Schéffer's assistant, M. Pribylovsky, protested, and intended to bring the affair before a Court. The result was that he was found killed on March 9th last in a street of Astrakhan. Then the assistant of the head of the police, a certain Yermakóff, a friend of the man killed, began a prosecution for this last murder; it so happened that he had seen the assassins, and when he came to the office of the head of the police, Rakhmáninoff, he discovered in one of the agents of Rakhmáninoff (the agent appointed to watch the revolutionary socialists) the assassin of Schéffer's assistant. He wanted to arrest him, but Rakhmáninoff made the man disappear. Shortly after that another agent of Rakhmáninoff burned himself in a cell, and Rakhmáninoff himself was found dead in the lodgings of the governor of the province. This mysterious affair was told at full length in a signed article in the newspaper Ryech, April 19, 1909.
"Every moment we expect some terrible scene of wholesale beating to break out, and we continually have poison in readiness," one of the inmates of a great prison in Siberia writes to her friends.
Last April all those thirteen prisoners who had been condemned to death at the Alexandrovsk prison of the government of Irkutsk, shared in equal parts the poison which they had obtained, in order to swallow it the moment the death sentences would have been confirmed by the Governor-General.
In March last, in the Kursk prison, out of three persons condemned to death, one vainly tried to kill his two other comrades, and finally succeeded in killing himself.6
In the Tambof prison, when the Court Martial was sitting last March, and continually pronounced death sentences, there were five attempts at suicide in the prison. Two of them were successful.7
All these facts have received a wide publicity in the Russian Press, and through the interpellations in the Duma, as also during the discussions which took place in the Duma when the Prison Budget was under discussion.
Thus on March 16, 1909, when the official figures about the overcrowding of the prisons were received by the Duma, it became evident that the sudden increase of the prison population during the last three years was the reason why an epidemic of typhus is now raging in almost every Russian prison, and almost every town. The Director of the Russian Prison Department admitted in the Duma the fact of the existence of typhus epidemics as well as cases of ill-treatment. He added, however, that his Department is energetically combating these evils. But nevertheless the overcrowding of prisons continues.
"The prison population," said the Deputy Gherasimoff at the sitting of March 22, 1909, "has increased during the last year alone by 100,000 persons." With regard to the treatment during the Duma debates of the prisoners, it was mentioned how often the political prisoners were beaten by the warders. In the Vladimir prison five "politicals" were flogged. In the Ekaterinoslav prison the above-mentioned fact about the ill-treatment of Gutmacher, who was tortured after being condemned to death, and beaten with sticks before the execution took place, was confirmed in the Duma. Not only men but women, not excluding invalids, are beaten in the prisons. In the Kostroma prison, the prisoner Phillipof, for having thrown some crumbs out of the window, was put in a strait-waistcoat and beaten to death. "Our prisons," concluded the Deputy Gherasimov, "are places where humanity is outraged, and where crime is born and bred."
Finally, on April 7 (20), 1909, after having received from the Sevastopol prison a long letter from the Duma Deputy, Lomtatidze, in which he described in what a terrible way men were executed day after day under his very windows, and after having reproduced this letter in full in their interpellation the Social Democratic section of the Duma addressed to the Prime Minister the following questions:--
"Is it known to the President of the Council of the Ministers--
"(1) That in the Sevastopol prison those who are condemned to death are systematically submitted to beating and all sorts of tortures before the death sentence is executed?
"(2) That executions take place even when the condemned man is unconscious, as was the case with a certain Vogt, who was ill with typhus and had a temperature of 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit)?
"(3) That these abominations take place under the very windows of the infirmary, which renders still worse the condition of prisoners under treatment?
"And if this is known, what measures does the President of the Council intend to take to put an end to such cases and to prosecute the guilty persons?"8
The letter of the Duma Deputy Lomtatidze, having been translated in full in the Daily News of April 13, 1909, it suffices to mention only the following facts:--
During less than one year (the past year) 70 persons were executed in the prison hospital yard within five yards of his window (one of the hospital windows). The scaffold is clearly seen from the hospital. There are now awaiting execution, 15 condemned prisoners, and 90 awaiting sentence.
The prisoners are continually beaten till they are half unconscious, and are often executed in this state.
A certain prisoner named Vogt, though he was ill with typhoid, was taken from his bed and dragged to execution while in a delirious state. M. Lomtatidze adds: "Perhaps this was better, but on me this execution has produced the deepest impression of all."
The soldiers have been ordered to shoot at the prisoners as soon as there is any noise in the cells, and as the cries of those who are being beaten and pinioned prior to execution are heard, it is inevitable that the other prisoners should cry out, or even call "Farewell" to those comrades who are being dragged to the scaffold.9
On May 16, 1909, the Social Democrat section brought once more the wide question of prisons before the Duma.10
Even as they are reported in the papers it would be too long to quote here the debates in full. Therefore, only a few of the main facts are stated, each of which has been carefully verified before being brought before the Duma.
All the cases already stated before the Duma, when questions were put regarding the Ekaterinoslav and Sebastopol prisons--said the Social Democratic Deputy--go to prove that there we have to deal "with a carefully organized system of political revenge on a limited circle of persons."
In the Orel county prison the physical ill-treatment of prisoners began in the end of 1907, and during 1908 it acquired the aspect of an organized system.
The prisoners are here beaten terribly, till a state of unconsciousness supervenes, and they are half dead. In December, 1907, the assistant of the prison governor--a certain Levitsky--when receiving a prisoner, announced: "We have been given a free hand, do you understand? We will go scot-free. If I choose I can shoot you like a dog...!" During 1907 the prisoners were continually beaten. The same continued during the past year.
A prisoner who petitioned the governor Tchijov, in the name of other prisoners, for some small thing, was taken to a special cell and beaten in a horrible way in the presence of the chief warder. He was beaten by a warder and by the head of the hospital. In his own cell he was again beaten by a warder.
Last year in May a note was found and this was attributed (not proved) to a certain prisoner Akoutin. He was then put in irons--hands and feet--and taken to the "light" cell No. 2 (where prisoners are beaten chiefly). A mad orgy of punishment took place. He was thrown senseless on the asphalt floor. Thence the warders were forced to take hi to the hospital ward, where in a few days he died.
A fourteen years' old boy was terribly beaten and put in irons by order of the governor. There was no reason for this, as the boy had just been brought from another prison.
The warders beat also the companion of the boy, with whom he had arrived, on the head till he was senseless, and then dragged him about the cell, playing football his senseless body. The first boy had to watch this. One of the chief warders became so lively at this game of football that the others, fearing he would kill the prisoner, called on him to desist.
In the Orel central hard-labor prison the prisoners were and are continually beaten. Latterly the cases of a Socialist Revolutionist Dyakoff and a Moscow lawyer Zhdanoff have come to light. The former was mercilessly beaten. Zhdanoff had handed in some petition for the procureur. He was called up to the procureur, who insulted him. When Zhdanoff returned to his cell, the beating began. He was beaten so terribly that the warders decided they had killed him. This was reported to the assistant of the governor. When the assistant arrived, he began to swear at the warders that they had "killed a prisoner without permission." Then they saw that the prisoner still breathed. He was taken to the hospital; when he had revived he was taken back to solitary confinement, where he is now and where he is being beaten every few days. The warders say openly, "You won't live long."
Prisoners are brought to this prison from other prisons for "correction"--rather for murder. Even the soldier-guards speak with horror and terror of what happens within these walls.
The procureur never visits the prison, and though the treatment of prisoners was brought to his knowledge through his Deputy, and the latter promised that a legal inquiry should be made, of course nothing has been done.
Evidence was then read to the Duma concerning the Tobolsk hard-labor prison. It is similar to the above.
In the Boutyrki prison in Moscow the prisoners are continually stripped and searched, the warders pushing their filthy hands into the prisoners' mouths. The cases of beating and the Black Hole punishment are endless. Here are a few cases:--
A prisoner was slow in taking off his cap to the governor's assistant. The assistant snatched off the cap and gave the prisoner a furious blow in the ribs. The warders constantly beat the prisoners.
One prisoner had his temple smashed by a blow given with a pair of handcuffs.
A sailor was so beaten in July, 1908, that he committed suicide.
Real tortures take place in the Black Hole and in the "secret" cells.
"Enter with a lamp into this cell," writes a prisoner, "and the black patches of coagulated blood will tell you what happens in the Black Hole."
Recently a prisoner, officially reported perfectly healthy previous to this, died three days after illtreatment in the Black Hole.
A prisoner, acknowledged insane, was terribly beaten and flogged.
One prisoner in the hospital struck a warder during a fit. He was strapped with leather thongs to his cot for seven days. These straps were neither removed nor loosened for one single moment for any need during seven days and seven nights. His right arm has now become paralyzed.
Another prisoner was bound to his cot in a similar way in his cell for five days, during which time he was unconscious.
The sick and healthy are herded together.
Every day there are new cases of prisoners becoming mentally deranged.
The officials choose to consider most of these cases "shamming," and many such prisoners commit suicide.
Those prisoners who are violent are kept strapped in their cots for whole days, where they lie in a state of untold filth.
Sixty-five per cent. of the prisoners are suffering from scurvy, and their fetters cut into their swollen legs. The death-rate is enormous. The consumptives die in fetters in the crowded cells, with other prisoners looking on.
In Tiflis, in the fortress, the governor issued, in January of this year, the order that "any prisoner approaching a window is to be shot at without warning, and the head is to be aimed at so that there may be no wounded." As the air is unbearable the prisoners inevitably approach the windows. This order is a sure way of getting rid of prisoners.
In one day one was killed and two wounded in the same cell.
On April 3rd a youth aged 20 was shot. This prisoner had been brought to Tiflis from Moscow in view of his serious state of health.
There are other numerous cases.
In Ekaterinoslav, the Duma Deputies said, there are 192 prisoners ill with typhoid, and the number is growing. There is one sanitary officer who nurses all these sick. The doctor visits them twice a week.
The death-rate is enormous; the typhoid patients remain fettered.
In Bachmut, a prison for 84, which now holds 350 inmates, there are 54 cases of typhus.
A similar communication was received from Pavlograd in April.
Communications have been received from Kieff and Moscow giving the numbers of typhoid and typhus cases (see above).
Founded on these facts, the Social Democratic Party presented a list of four questions in which the above facts are put forward. We translate the fourth question:--
"4. Whether the above-mentioned facts are known to the President of the Council of Ministers, to the Ministers of Justice, of the Navy, and the Minister of War ; then what measures have been taken by them for the protection of the life and health of the prisoners; for the abolition of the tortures, beating, and murders now practiced; for the prevention of the insulting and rough behavior of the prison officials, and the various methods of injury and torture, and also of other unlawful actions and abuse of the powers given to prison officials, and the powers of supervision given to the procureur, and what has been done for the prosecution of guilty persons?"
In aditition to all the above evidence I will give here facts taken from a detailed inquiry which was made in Russia on behalf of those interested in the condition of Administrative exiles in Siberia and Northern Russia. In many prisons and police lock-ups, when the prisoners were being questioned, guilty or innocent alike were treated with a violence that made even the innocent confess to crimes that sent them to the gallows. The prisons of the Baltic provinces and Poland were specially celebrated for this, but in many other places the same horrors were committed. Here are a few facts.11
At Vilno, when the sessions of the Assize Courts commenced, twenty-six ordinary (not political) prisoners asked to see the Public Prosecutor, and informed him of the terrible torture they had undergone in the County prison.
The Deputy of the Duma--M. Kisileff--received information from twenty peasants from the Kozlóff district (government of Tambov) about the horrible treatment they had received in the Kozlóff prison. They were beaten with nagaikas and with rods of iron until they lost consciousness, then cold water was thrown over them, and when they regained consciousness the beating was recommenced.
In Ekaterinoslav, at a trial in a Court of justice, the following facts were attested to. The police, with their chief officer, Trousévitch, burned the fingers of the prisoners and whipped the soles of their feet to force confession. Trousévitch was condemned by the Court to one month's arrest, the three policemen to seven days' imprisonment, the others were acquitted.
In prison No. 1 of Tobolsk an underground passage, dug by the prisoners with a view of making their escape, was discovered. All the prisoners were put into chains, many were put into the punitive cells, and twelve "leaders" were transferred to other prisons. The prisoners began to protest, upon which the political prisoners, condemned to penal servitude, were flogged. After that there was a strike in the prison and the authorities called in troops, by whom, on July 16th, one prisoner was killed, four wounded, and all the others severely injured.
In Novi Marghilan, on February 10, 1907, at a trial concerning an attack on the house of a rich moneylender and the theft of 50,000 rubles, the Court Martial condemned three men to death, six to hard labor, and six were acquitted. The trial was public, and it was proved that during the preliminary examination the prisoners had been tortured. One prisoner had kerosene poured over his back, which was set fire to. The burns were shown in Court. Another prisoner had finely cut up horse-hair forced into his interior organs.
The demoralizing influence of the "state of siege" tells on the local administration. The prison authorities of Kazan thought of a new sort of torment; they tried to incite the common law prisoners to insult physically and morally the "political" women. But they did not succeed. On February 2, 1907, the common law prisoners demanded to see the Public Prosecutor, and requested him to draw up a protocol about the manner in which the authorities treated them and urged them on to harm the political female prisoners. It was stated in this protocol that the assistant director of the prison, Goremykin, and the chief inspector urged the men to violate the political during their walks, for which rewards were promised.
However, it was above all at Riga that torture flourished. Here are two facts.12 A woman--aged about 40--was arrested on the charge of having helped to conceal criminals. She was sent to the well-known agent of the police, Oger, and on her arrival thither she was immediately beaten with nagaikas and indiarubber sticks.13 A loaded revolver was forced into her mouth with the threat that she would killed on the spot if she did not point out the hiding-place of a person the police believed her to know. A police officer and two policemen tortured her.
The second fact, which was also mentioned in all the leading dailies, and was not contradicted, was the following: The head of the Secret Police, Gregus, his assistant, Mihéef, and two spies, Anton and Davos, were the chief torturers. Before commencing, Davos generally examined the prisoner's skin, and would remark, "It's all right, he can stand it." Sixteen anarchists were tried by Court Martial, and it appears that one of them, Grünning, had incurred the special hatred of the detectives. This youth of 23 had had all the hair pulled out of his head and beard, and several of his ribs were broken. With the butt of a revolver he had had his head broken and his face so disfigured that he was unrecognizable. After the torture he was unable to move, and two warders dragged him to his cell, and flung him down by the door. His comrades raised him, brought him back to consciousness, and washed his wounds. His sufferings were terrible; he could neither sit nor lie. But notwithstanding all this Grünning did not give the information needed, and it was only thanks to this that his sentence was fifteen years hard labor, instead of a death penalty. This sentence was a great surprise to Grünning and his comrades. But Grünning was sent to a punitive battalion in Livonia, pending a new examination (after a judicial sentence!), and a week later it became known that he had been shot "by mistake." The second victim of the same torturers was Karl Legsdin (Kenin), who was sentenced to death by a Field Court Martial, and executed. During the examination he had had his toe-nails torn out, and certain of his organs so squeezed that right up to his execution he had internal hæmorrhage. This torture was invented by Mihéef, who was called "a brute" even by his executioner, Davos. The face and body of Legsdin were so frightfully bruised that he could neither sit nor lie, but had always to stand.14
This is what happened in Lodz. For having made an attack on the County Exchequer on May 30, 1906, four persons were sentenced in Warsaw to capital punishment, which was later altered to penal servitude. In all, thirteen persons were accused, and at the preliminary examination they had all pleaded guilty. At the trial it was proved that while they were in the Lodz prison they were tortured during several days, they were beaten with nagaikas till in some places the flesh literally tore off in pieces ; when they lay helpless on the floor their tormentors jumped from chairs on to their bodies ; their heads were twisted round, their pulled out, their teeth broken. After several months the traces of this treatment were so evident that no denial possible. Under it all the thirteen prisoners pleaded guilty, but the Court would not take this confession into consideration and--having no proofs against them--it completely acquitted nine of them (Sovremennik, July 14, 1906, No. 73). The Novyi Put (May 8, 1906, No. 106), also stated that in a secret chamber in Lodz the politicals were tortured ; they were beaten till they became unconscious, their teeth were pulled out, their heads pressed by screws till the screws broke their bones, and so on. S. Sonnenstein, a youth of 18 ; Futterman, a boy of 15 ; and a young girl of 18, A. Wesen, were all tortured in this way.
Warsaw is also well known for its tortures, and the most important part there was played by a spy named Grinn. Here is one of many facts.15 The four working men, Setchka, Kempsky, Steblinsky, and Savitsky, having been brought before a Court Martial under the accusation of having murdered a certain Chaki, a clerk of the Secret Police Department in Warsaw, were all acquitted, because during the trial the prisoners declared before the Court that after their arrest they were tortured to such an extent that they confessed to a crime they had not committed. The fact was confirmed by Doctor Falz, who had examined their bodies and found on them the traces of the tortures. It was Grinn who directed and ordered the tortures. A fifth prisoner went mad during his "examination," and is now in an asylum.
In March, 1908, the Governor of Bessarabia dismissed a police officer, Obnimsky, and the head of the district police in Soroki, Levitski, on account of the mysterious death of a village publican's nephew. This boy of 15 was accused of stealing 25 rubles from his uncle, and at the latter's request he was taken to Obnimsky's office, where Obnimsky, together with another man, questioned the boy. The boy died during this examination.16
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