“What is the worst thing in the camps?” Irina Ratushinskaya asked anfellow prisoner who had been there much longer than she. “The perpetualnlies,” the woman answered.n”No, independent of the government,nso they took offense.” (Under Sovietnlaw poetry can be qualified as “disseminationnof slanderous documentation innpoetic form.”) In 1983 she was sentencednto seven years’ strict (the harshest)nlabor camp plus five years’ internalnexile.nRatushinskaya tells of an episodenthat, perhaps, could have happenednonly in Russia. While in jail, she hadncopied some poems of Pushkin and ofna great Russian lyric poet of the 19thncentury, Tyutchev. When she wasntransferred from the jail to the camp,nthe poems were confiscated. She hadnhoped that they would be returned.nBut “instead of having them returnednto me, I was given a document [which]nstated that these poems were found tonbe slanderous, ideologically dangerous,nand for this reason had been destroyednby burning. . . . The Kiev KGB staffnare not expected to know anythingnabout literature, and they had simplyndecided that these poems had all beennwritten by me. . . . So, by courtesy ofnthe ignorance of the Kiev KGB, I wasnarbitrarily elevated to genius rank: writingnabout the mountains of Georgia,nthe depths of the Siberian mines, aboutnthunderstorms in early May . . .”nRatushinskaya needs just a fewnstrokes to evoke a character. A pregnantnwoman-prisoner is led by her cellnin the transit train. “I see her as shenpasses my cage: a small, tear-stainednface, a shock of hair peeping out fromnunder a washed-out headscarf,” orn”grey-faced, withered, with bluish lipsnwere some of them; others sought tonbrighten their pallid faces with defiantnslashes of bright, cheap lipstick. Mynhands seemed to move of their ownnaccord to share what I had with them,nwhile something inside me screamednand screamed its pity for these patheticncreatures . . .”nHer book is about prison. Havingnbeen persecuted, tortured, beaten;nhaving gone through the most horridnexperience one can imagine a young,nintelligent, talented woman to gonthrough in this time of the late 80’s,nwhen Auschwitz and Treblinka are nonmore, still she is not angry, not evennbitter. She is rather sad. She feels sorrynfor them all, even the guards.n. . . my erstwhile travelingncompanions . . . Our nation hasnalways referred to thosennnsentenced to hard labor asn”unfortunates.” And unfortunatesnthey are, and I pitynthem as, no doubt, they pitynme. Gertainly I know about thenvicious camp “laws” by whichncriminals live, about mercilessnrevenge, about the exploitationnof the weak among them . . .nYet there is something else tonthem as well—and that I willnnever forget. I shall try to appealnto that “something else” whichnexists in even the mostnhardened criminals, and thenguards, and maybe even in thatnone, who has just peered innthrough the Judas-hole in thendoor to check whether I amnasleep or not. Oh, Lord, savenmy unfortunate people and havenmercy upon them!nThe only ones for whom she never asksnmercy are the KGB. Unobtrusively butnclearly through the whole book therenruns the leitmotif—the SS is not dead.nIt is still alive, and it is called the KGB.n”It’s not my job to prove to you thatnyou’re wrong. I don’t have the educationnor, the words for that. My job isnmuch easier: to make your life here sonmiserable you’ll never want to comenback,” boasts the “blonde fiend,” anwoman KGB lieutenant whom theyndubbed “Use Koch.” And, indeed, shendoes. (One can’t help recallingnGoering’s frankness at his trial: “I havenalways bet on villains.”) The descriptionnof how the author and another politicalnprisoner, an older woman, both on anhunger strike, were stripped, handcuffed,nbeaten severely by six KGBnmen, force-fed two liters of a horriblensolution pumped into their shrunkennstomachs, and then thrown into a dampncell with no bunks and puddles ofnfrozen water on the cement floor—thisndescription can be placed in SS imnEinsatz without so much as lifting ancomma.nAnd still, this is not all that is there,nin this strict regime Soviet politicalncamp. “What is the worst thing in thencamps?” Ratushinskaya asks TatyananMikhailovna, a woman who was in then”strict regime” much longer than she.nAnd Tatyana answers without a moment’snhesitation: “The perpetualnlies.” This answer can serve as a meta-nJUNE 1989/39n