Monday, August 3, 2009

Yearbook Experience - Polina Gutshmidt

(experience of Polina Gutshmidt on pgs 131 & 132 of the 2008 Yearbook)

I loyally believed in the Communist ideal and upheld it. However, I was arrested by the Communists in May 1944 and sent to a labor camp in Vorkuta. For three years I was not told the reason for my arrest. At first, I believed that there was some mistake, and I waited to be freed. Instead, I was sentenced to ten years of camp imprisonment for making supposed anti-Soviet remarks. Since I had a medical background, I worked in the camp hospital during my first few years of imprisonment. In 1949, I was transferred to Inta, to a camp for political prisoners. The camp regime was much stricter. An atmosphere of resentment, rudeness, immorality, apathy, and despair reigned among the prisoners. Rumors that everyone in the camp would soon be shot or sentenced to life imprisonment made the already tense situation even worse. Under the stress, several prisoners lost their sanity. The prisoners mistrusted and hated one another, since there were so many informers in the camp. People kept to themselves and adjusted as well as they could. Selfishness and greed were everywhere.

One group of about 40 female prisoners was markedly different from the rest. They always stayed together and were suprisingly pretty, neat, kind, and friendly. They were mostly younger women and even some little girls. I learned that they were religious believers, Jehovah's Witnesses. The prisoners treated them in different ways. Some were mean and hostile. Others admired their behavior, especially their love for one another. For example, when one of the Witnesses would fall ill, the others would take turns keeping vigil at her bedside. In the camp, this was especially unusual. I was amazed that this group of people was made up of so many nationalities, yet they were friendly to one another. By that time, I had lost all interest in life. Once when I was feeling particularly low, I sat down and cried. One of the girls came up to me and asked, "Polina, why are you crying?" "I don't want to live," I answered. The girl, Lidia Nikulina, began to comfort me. She told me about the purpose of life, how God would solve all mankind's problems, and many other things. In July 1954, I was released. By then I had learned much from Jehovah's Witnesses and was delighted to become one of them.

*Tomorrow I'm gonna post a connected part of the story about Polina's husband & family after she became a Witness.