“A charming, cultured old man”: anarchist Non Varshavskiy in 1950s Siberian exile
Anarchist Non (Noi) Ilyich Varshavskiy was imprisoned in 1927 for producing a leaflet protesting against then-imminent execution of Italian-American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, which also called on proletarians to protest against persecution of anarchists in the USSR. (http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/v15gb3) He spent much of the rest of his life in prisons and Siberian exile, and did not betray his convictions. In the early 1930s, he corresponded with the Relief Fund of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) for Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned or Exiled in Russia (http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/tx97g0). In 1949, he was arrested again and sentenced to 10 more years of exile in East Siberia as a “socially dangerous element”. There he met the members of the Levin family, who held fond memories of Varshavskiy.
Theatre actress and director Sarra Mikhailovna Levina-Kulneva (1920 – not before 2004) was sentenced to eight years in exile in Siberia in November 1950 as a socially undesirable element. Her husband Naum (Nokhem, Nokhim) Yakovlevich Levin (1908-1950) was a secretary of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. He was arrested in September 1949, sentenced to death on November 22, 1950, and executed the next day (http://mishpoha.org/n33/33a11.php).
In her autobiography “Sorele” (http://www.memorial.krsk.ru/memuar/Kulneva.htm; written down by Anna Mass and first published in Zvezda magazine in 1991), Sarra Levina-Kulneva recounted meeting Non Varshavskiy when she served her exile term. In Spring 1951, she started working on a construction site in the Krasnoyarsk Territory village of Taseyevo:
“Our works foreman was Non Ilyich Varshavskiy. He was 64 years old, of that he spent 33 years in prison and exile*. For 33 years he could not be forgiven for being an anarchist. A Jew anarchist! His wife Anna Lvovna [Varshavskaya] and daughter [Liya Nonovna Varshavskaya], both of them medics**, came from Moscow to visit him each time they had holidays.
A charming, cultured old man. We made very good friends with him. He saw how hard it was for me, living with two children, and he offered me monthly assistance, but I refused. I said: “Non Ilyich, you are given help yourself by your relatives – they save their own money and send them to you. By what right would I use that?”
When Levina-Kulneva was called to the local NKVD office in 1952 to get a response to her query concerning Naum Levin’s fate (she was not given a confirmation of his execution), Varshavskiy met her in the street: “He suggested that they want to recruit me as an informer, and as we walked there, he taught me how to respond so they wouldn’t catch me”.
The memoirs of her daughter Miriam Levina, “Stories not for children”, about her life as a child exile, were published in Golosa Sibiri (“Voices of Siberia”) almanac by Kuzbassvuzizdat publisher in Kemerovo in 2007 (http://golosasibiri.ru/almanah/vyp_5/092_025_lev.htm). She also mentioned Non Varshavskiy: “I heard how mum told someone that Non Ilyich was first imprisoned even before the revolution. As a kid he joined the anarchists and was jailed for the first time when he was 15 years old, for revolutionary activity. And from 1922 he was imprisoned all the time, as an anarchist***.”
Levina also described how the various exiles drank vodka and danced to mournful music as the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was announced in 1953: “Non Ilyich lifted me up to his arms and started spinning as he traversed amongst the people who gathered here for some unconceivable reason. My step-father [Vladimir Kulnev] turned a button on the radio, and heavy mournful music started to sound louder, which made the bright smiles of the guests seem even more absurd to me.”
After Stalin’s death, Varshavskiy was rehabilitated in July 1955 (http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/zs7jdj). Levina-Kulneva wrote: “Non Ilyich Varshavskiy died from throat cancer, he did not even live one full year after returning. A near and dear man! When I felt really bad, I ran to him, he would always find me a glass of strong tea and a ship biscuit, he would sit me down, he told me something, I told him something.”
[Translated by Szarapow]
* Varshavskiy was born in 1892 or 1895 and first arrested in 1927, so these numbers may be incorrect (http://gufo.me/content_pol/varshavskij-noj-ilich-2417.html).
** Apparently, Varshavskiy’s daughter worked as a school teacher (http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/tx97g0).
*** I presume that the numbers may have been borrowed from her mother’s book.