I Survived Labour Camps, Prison And Exile Under Stalin, Then Started A New Life In America

Author Victor Levenstein reveals how a forced confession to a KGB-fabricated plot led to a decade away from his family, for a special Life Less Ordinary collaboration between HuffPost UK and The Moth

“Did you express your anti-Soviet views?”

“Did you have anti-Soviet views?”

There was nothing like this going on, and I denied everything. But the questioning continued the whole night.

In the morning I was brought back to my box. Sleeping in the daytime in the prison was strictly prohibited. The guard watched me through the peephole in the door and kept me awake.

The next night I was back to questioning. One interrogator, then two. They showed me testimonies of my friends who had already confessed and implicated me. They turned on a powerful, very bright lamp and directed it at me.

They cursed me. They humiliated me. They threatened me.

The officer would put his finger up to the back of my head. “Here our KGB bullet will enter your damn enemy skull. Here it will come out. We will grind you into the dust. We will erase you.”

This went on night after night, with sleepless days in the box. My feet were swollen, my eyes were irritated. I was so exhausted from the sleeplessness that from time to time my head would dive forward and down, and the officer would kick me with the toe of his boot to keep me awake.

Finally I stopped thinking clearly. I couldn’t concentrate. Everything was in a fog. And on the sixth sleepless night, that was it. I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t care. I just wanted this torture to end. And when my interrogator said, “Have you participated in this anti-Soviet conversation?” I said, “Yes, I did.”

“Do you accept being a member of this anti-Soviet group?” And I said, “Yes, I do.” But the interrogation didn’t stop. Now they wanted me to confess in planning to kill Stalin. And here, I don’t know how, but I found the strength to resist. Maybe in my subconscious the idea stuck that this confession would bring my death.

They transferred me to a regular prison cell, and the interrogation continued for nine months. But I never confessed to planning to kill Stalin. Then one day I was sentenced. It was not like an American court with a big chamber and a judge and a jury.

I was led to a small room without a window. The KGB manager was sitting at a small desk. He handed me a piece of paper. It was my verdict – the resolution of the Special Board of the KGB. I was convicted as a member of an anti-Soviet group and for anti-Soviet agitation. I was sentenced to a labor camp for five years.

As you can see, I survived the five years. As soon as my term ended, I was sent to Siberia in exile for life. Then, four years later, friendly cosmic forces intervened in my life. Stalin croaked. He died, and my exile ended.

I came back to Moscow, completed my education, married Dora, the girl I fell in love with. Our son, Matvey, was born. Little by little we built a decent life by Soviet Union standards.

But as soon as the door for immigration opened slightly, we applied and emigrated to the United States. I was 57 years old at the time. My wife was 54. Not the best time to start a new life in a new country! But I always remembered the years behind barbed wire and the humiliation I suffered under the KGB interrogation.

I knew we had to go. Many years later, when the Soviet Union collapsed and in Russia the KGB files became open for victims, I finally found the reason I was arrested.

It happened to be that this company of independently thinking young people was under suspicion and surveillance, so my friend’s apartment was bugged. Using the recordings of our conversations, the KGB fabricated this plot about Stalin’s assassination.

Why? To prove the importance of the KGB. To prove that the watchful eye of the KGB never sleeps. Thirteen young people were arrested so dear Comrade Stalin could sleep peacefully. They made seven confess to this nonsense about killing Stalin. They didn’t have any proof, but it didn’t matter. They had the confessions, and it was enough for sentencing.

Three young and healthy gifted guys didn’t come back from the camps – the camps killed them. The camps took long years of life from others who survived.

I am 94 now, and I am the only survivor of those boys, who in faraway Moscow were reading Hemingway and Steinbeck, dreaming about freedom, and paid a heavy price for daring to think.

I live in the United States now, and I have come to realize that this life is the life we all dreamed about.

Life in freedom.

This story is cross-posted from The Moth’s latest book, Occasional Magic, for a special edition of HuffPost UK’s Life Less Ordinary blog series. You can buy the book here

Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from HuffPost UK that showcases weird and wonderful life experiences. If you’ve got something extraordinary to share please email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with LLO in the subject line. To read more from the series, visit our dedicated page.