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Impact on Human Relations

Stalinist Terror, families, enemies of the people
Families erased the faces of arrested relatives

People lived in fearful expectation of the knock on the door in the middle of the night. They slept badly and awoke when they heard a car pull up outside. They would lie there waiting for the sound of footsteps to pass by on the staircase or the corridor, before going back to sleep, relieved that the visitors were not for them.

People did not talk about arrested relatives. They destroyed their letters and photographs of them. Even in the home it was dangerous to talk about such relatives, because, as it was said, 'the walls have ears.'

With the end of genuine communication, mistrust spread throughout society. People were afraid of making contact with the families of arrested 'enemies'. They crossed the street to avoid them. Colleagues, neighbours, friends, even relatives became strangers overnight.

The disappearance of a father and a husband placed enormous strain on families. Wives and children did not know what to think. Many wives renounced arrested husbands, not necessarily because they thought they might be 'enemies of the people,' but because it made survival easier and gave protection to their families (many husbands for this reason advised wives to renounce them).

The state put pressure on the wives of 'enemies' to renounce their husbands publicly. Failure to do so could have serious consequences - expulsion from the Party, dismissal from a job, eviction from their home, threats to their children, or even their arrest.

Soviet orphans, Great Terror, enemies of the people
Orphans of 'enemies of the people'

EXTRACT FOR SUBSCRIBERS ONLY. Orlando Figes, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (Penguin, 2007), pp. 305-7.

It took extraordinary resilience, and not a little bravery, for a single mother to resist these pressures and stand by her belief in her husband. Irina and Vasily Dudarev had been married for nearly fifteen years when Vasily was arrested in 1937... [FULL TEXT 855 WORDS]

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