Of all the stages that the prisoner went through on the way to the Gulag, the interrogation was probably the easiest step to imagine due to many books, films and shows.

In war films, viewers saw how brutal the Gestapo were and how they failed to break the courageous Soviet people. “We will never say where the headquarters is!” – After the war, millions of boys would say this expression as they would play. After some time, many of those boys would find themselves in a very similar situation, but instead of Gestapo, it would be Soviet prison camps.

Do you remember how some middle-aged, gray-haired chekist with tired eyes exposed a tough Japanese spy who pretended to be a peaceful Kyrgyz? It was a duel of intellects; a delicate chess game… Also, the traditional «bad and good investigators» from Western films? Yes, there is a lot to be said for this topic…

However, the interrogations in the Soviet organs of the NKVD did not look like the ones in movies or books.

In Stalin’s times, terror was always massive. And not only in 1937-1938, but every month 100 thousand people were arrested and 40 thousand were executed.

All arrests and murders in the USSR were planned in the same way as the production of steel or the tailoring of women’s dresses were planned. The trial lasted no more than 5 minutes and then a sentence was fabricated: 5, 10, 25 years, or the highest level of punishment… execution.

After the Great Terror, the situation changed slightly. The main role in the interrogations was to force the accused to confess, this is exactly how the work of the investigators was assessed. The details of how the confessions were obtained and how the investigators acted were retold by the arrested people themselves.

LEV ALEKSANDROVICH NETTO:¬ The interrogations lasted every night for two months. I still denied everything and again— kicking, handcuffs and a punishment cell… Most of all, I was afraid when the Major hit me in the ribs, as if he was getting to the internal organs. My fingers were pinched in the door. And once they exaggerated, and I passed out. I woke up in a cell. My fingers were covered in blood. Cell mates said, «Sign it, otherwise you will become disabled.» At the next interrogation, I told the investigator, “Okay, I’ll sign everything. Just come up with a legend yourself, I don’t know how.” The next day he called and said politely, “We all understand that you are not a spy, but once you get here, there is no turning back. So, here’s a legend for you. Sign it.» I began to write and thought to myself, what is this?! It is written that I killed the commander, went to the Germans, revealed secrets… I thought, ‘no way!’ I cannot sign that I am a spy, never. And the investigator calmly said, “Well, I suggest that you think about it again. If you don’t sign it, we’ll call your father and mother here, let them look at a traitor of our Motherland’” So I signed everything.

ALEXANDER IVANOVICH SHNEIDER: My investigator was about the same age as I was, or simply looked young. But he was as angry as an animal. It seemed like he was from a rural area, based on his dialect. He said, «You, bitch. You’ll tell me everything and you’ll write all about anti-Soviet “organization.” That’s exactly what he said, organization”. Otherwise, I’ll fry your nuts and make scrambled eggs from them.” and laughed. Also, sometimes he would come up from behind me as I would write the answer to his question and he would suddenly hit the back of my head with his fist. Then he began to pinch my fingers with the door. Maybe someone could have taken it, but I couldn’t. Without reading, I signed a list of probably 10 names; sort of my alliances in the conspiracy against Commander Yakir. With pain and fear for my life. I still cross the street to the other side when I see a man in uniform.

IOANNA MUREIKENE: Interrogations were only at night. At first, Polyakov was an investigator. He said in a good way, “Tell me everything. If you tell me everything, we will let you go. If not, you will go to Siberia and you will not return.” He kept saying, “You are so young! Why did you need that?» Then another investigator came, Istomin. He was a bad person. He made me sit on the edge of a stool, aimed a lamp in my face… Sometimes I was so sleepy that I just passed out. If you close your eyes, you get hit on the head and you fall. All night, the lamp shines in your eyes. All night. Sometimes he gets tired of holding the lamp, he drinks tea and smokes. He will call the soldier to watch us and he leaves. And if you say that you don’t know something, he hits you right away.

VSEVOLOD MEYERHOLD: From a complaint letter of the arrested director to Molotov, “They beat me here; a sick 65-year-old man. They put me face down on the floor. They beat me with a rubber band on my heels and on my back. When I was sitting on a chair with the same rubber, they beat me on top of my legs with a lot of force. In the following days, when my legs were covered in hematomas and bruises, they kept beating my bloody legs with the same rubber band. The pain was so epic that it seemed like boiling water was poured onto the sore sensitive places of my legs and I screamed and cried from pain. They beat me on the back with this rubber. They beat me with their hands in the face… The investigator kept repeating, threatening, “If you won’t write (meaning lie), we will beat you again. We will only leave your head and right arm untouched. The rest of your body will turn into a piece of bloody meat.” So, I signed everything until November 16, 1939. However, I deny my testimony as it was taken out of me using torture, and I beg you, the head of the government, to save me and give me back my freedom. I love my Motherland and will give it all my strength in the last years of my life.”

ANTANAS SEIKALIS: I was beaten a lot there, in the KGB. They beat my ear to blood, my head, and pierced my stomach. There were experienced people. They beat you and watched how you behave. The other prisoner immediately shouted, “A-a-a, just don’t hit me!” But due to fear, I didn’t feel any pain; only the taste of blood in my mouth. Then they stripped me naked. «Lie down on the floor.» Six officers stood around holding a big and scary whip in their hands. They waved the whip over me, and I laid in a crouching position, trying to cover myself, almost unconscious from fear. They waved and waved, but never hit. Then another 2 weeks of interrogations: they tortured me with hunger, punishment cell, frost. The main accusation was anti-Soviet agitation. Now I can brag, ‘look what a hero I am!’ I campaigned against the Soviet regime. Except, there was no agitation. They came up with it.

OLEG VOLKOV: I was shamefully and openly offered a choice: become a snitch, meaning an informer, or go to jail. “You see,” a man of about forty years old in a military uniform with buttonholes, politely explained to me without lowering his eyes, “Foreigners trust you. It’s easy for you to make connections with them. That will be useful to us. All you need to do is listen, sometimes ask questions, memorize answers and pass them to us.” I was finding all the excuses to not play the role of a secret agent due to the inevitability of failure. They were trying to use my patriotic feelings – I had to help them. They offered an easy life. They can financially provide for my existence and sometimes showed their claws, “We know enough about you to imprison you!”, Threatened, “We’ll destroy you in no time.” And again and again, they would slip the prepared document and pen. I would throw away or calmly lay the pen on the table. The dialogue would last longer and I gladly felt the power of resistance. The cheaper the arguments the investigators had, the more terrible and real their threats sounded. Then, the more firmly and resourcefully I would fight back. I was feeling the cheerful excitement of a winning fight.

ABBAS-OGLY ADILYA SHAHBOSOVNA: During one of the first interrogations, investigator Gurgenidze showed me a paper, “Here, read it. This allows me to use physical force on you. I can even scrape your skin off.» I was silent. Then, he grabbed my hair, (my hair was long, below the waist), wrapped it around his arm and started to drag me around the room. I was silent, although it was very painful. He started to command, “Get up! Sit down! Get up! Sit down! Hands up! Hands down! Hands up! Hands down! On your knees! Get up!” I had to do these senseless commands to the point of exhaustion, until my arms and legs swelled up. But for some reason, they did not dare to beat me. Why? I don’t know. The worst thing was when other prisoners were beaten and I was forced to watch them suffer. I saw how women were beaten with a rubber whip. How naked men were tortured and beaten in the most sensitive places and forced to run on all fours. I saw a lot of things that I can’t talk about and I don’t want to recall. At this point, I forgot where I was and was ready to rush to help but, with one hit in the back, the punishers quickly reminded me where I was. The investigator threatened to do the same with me if I refused to cooperate. Often, they put me in a punishment cell which was in the basement; one and a half meter square cell, cement floor, a tiny hole in the door, dim light. It quickly became stuffy and I started to move around like a caged animal. Once a day, they gave 200 grams of black, hard as a stone bread and twice, a cup of water. There was a toilet bucket in the corner. You could suffocate from the smell. But, I never cried during interrogations. I never asked for mercy from my torturers.

The most important result of interrogations and investigations was the psychological impact on the prisoner. Long before the transfer to prison, to Gulag, a person had already been “prepared” for life as a slave. He knew that he was deprived of human rights. He knew that the power of the NKVD-KGB was limitless and he could be destroyed at any moment. If he confessed to a crime he did not commit, it greatly reduced his self-esteem. However, even if he did not confess, there was not a slight chance of hope that he would be released.