Memoirs translated from Russian




НазваниеMemoirs translated from Russian
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Anti-government feelings not only did not weaken but soon were intensified since the members of the Rasputinist clique remaining in power, with Minister of Internal Affairs Protopopov at the head and inspired by the Czarist couple, exacerbated their course still further and undertook a series of arrests.

The arrest of members of the worker section of the Military-Industrial Committee, with worker Gvozdev at the head, aroused particular indignation. In connection with the arrests of workers I remember that, on the 14th of February, 1917 (by the old calendar), I went with a crowd of students from the University to the Psycho-Neurological Institute, situated in the small town of Solyany, to a protest meeting where we were addressed by orators who called for the overthrow of the autocracy.

As I recall, a student by the name of Zvi made the concluding remarks and ended his fiery speech with the words "Liberty or Death".

The meeting ended with a demonstration - a march of about 500 students, myself included, along the streets of Petrograd - from the Psycho-Neurological Institute along Shlisselburgsky, StaroNevsky and Nevsky Prospect.

Shouting anti-government slogans along the way, we came without hindrance to the Kazansky Cathedral, where we were met and scattered by a large detail of Mounted Police. To save myself from being arrested, I entered the editorial office of the newspaper "Russkaya Volya", located near the Cathedral on Nevsky which, shortly before his appointment as Minister, Protopopov, then still the Vice-Chairman of the Governmental Duma, founded. Protopopov then enlisted a series of eminent journalists and writers of a liberal slant - among them Amfiteatrov, the author of many popular books, such as "The Eighties" and "The Nineties" into the number of co-workers of the "Russkaya Volya".

As I recall, winter was especially severe in 1917 and my daily ride to work by the little engine, which every now and then broke down, would take several agonizing hours. Given the frequent breakdowns of the little engines, people said that the machinists were conducting an "Italian strike" (slowdown).

The severity of the winter had its repercussions on railroad transportation and on the supplying of Petrograd with provisions.

There was no hunger, but women had to stand in line for bread for a long time and, because of this, disorders occurred in the workers' neighborhoods.

Looking through the prism of food crises experienced subsequently by me in the course of the following decades, I should say that the provisioning difficulties of the capital at that time should be relegated to the category of relatively mild ones.

The fact that these difficulties should have had such serious consequences when at the same time the German people endured steadfastly and without a murmur the hunger caused by the blockade conducted by England, indicates clearly that the reasons for this crisis were deeper and that the fall of the Czarist regime was engendered by a number of events and facts.

The outcome of this crisis was predetermined in part by the fact that in these February days, decisive for the regime, the Czar found himself abandoned even by those who until then served as his faithful support - the members of the Czarist House, the nobility of the capital and the ardent monarchists. Even the Cossack whip which, by faithfully serving the autocracy until then, helped so successfully to hold the people to obedience, this time refused to "stroll along spines", as I too could soon convince myself.

But most fatal for the regime turned out to be the fact that the arms, which until then reposed in the hands of the handful of oppressors, because of the war were now in hands of the populace who did not defer the settling of accounts with the autocracy for its making drunkards of the people and the "drunken budgets"; for the all-Russian ignorance and illiteracy; for the 9th of February and the punitive expeditions; for the pogroms and bloody slanders; for Rasputin and Sukhomilov.

On Saturday, the 25th of February (old calendar), I was unable to go to work because of the general strike proclaimed by the workers. All week long there were disorders in the city in connection with the shortage of bread.

The hub of the agitations was Znamenskaya Square, (now renamed Square of the Uprising), near which - the Nevsky, corner of Konsistorskaya, David and I lived.

This square was intrsected by the Nevsky Prospect and on one side of it was located a station of the railroad to Moscow (then Nikolayevskaya), on the other side was located the Severnaya (Northern) Hotel.

A monument to Czar Alexander III, sitting on a horse, stood then in Znamenskaya Square, which was fated in these stormy days to become a people's rostrum and a center around which historical events took place.

Of this monument, which was considered monstrous, it was said in the capital: "A pedestal stands, on the pedestal a hippopotamus, on the hippopotamus a fool and on the fool a cap".

The day before, in Znamenskaya square, my brother David was a witness when, during a street demonstration, a Cossack killed a policeman who had just killed a woman demonstrator.

On that Saturday the 25th, when I was on the street from the early morning on, I was witness as the police, whom the people called "pharaohs", were unable to cope with the flooding onto Nevsky, from the worker's quarters, of enormous crowds of demonstrators with red flags proclaiming anti-governmental slogans - "down with autocracy" and the like.

All Saturday Nevsky belonged to the people and it was still in their hands when I returned home from my sister Emma's, who lived on Troitskaya street, a few houses from Nevsky.

On Sunday the the 26th, early in the morning, when David and I, not suspecting that changes had occurred during the night, left the house and, with several more students, began to cross Znamenskaya Square, we saw that on both sides of Nevsky soldiers were lined up who did not let anyone onto the Prospect; on the Square stood a military man with a whip in his hands who, as we later learned, was the Commander of troops of the Petrograd military district, general Khabalov. Having seen our group, Khabalov, pointing us out with his whip, gave some orders to the Cossacks mounted there, who on the spot galloped in our direction. Having taken to my heels, I was already hearing the puffing of the Cossack horse behind my back but, to my surprise, instead of a whip blow, I heard a whisper: "scatter, we won't touch you". Slipping away unharmed, David and I made our way to the house of my sister Emma by roundabout streets.

The whole day the center of Petrograd was cut off from the worker quarters in the outskirts and, in our part of the city adjacent to Znamenskaya Square, soldiers of the Semenovsky Guard Regiment, reknowned for their suppression in 1905 of the uprising in Moscow on the Presna, were directing their bayonets against the people, executing the government order unquestioningly this time too. Thus nothing foreshadowed the fall of the hated regime. On the contrary, Sunday the 26th of February, 1917 was a day of complete triumph of the autocracy, never did it present itself so powerful and unshakable before my eyes.

Returning home from Emma's late in the evening, David and I saw that Nevsky was still occupied by troops and that the soldiers, in the company of maids from the neighboring apartments, warmed themselves at bonfires they had built since the frost was bitter.

In connection with the continuing worker's strike, I did not go to work on Monday, the 27th of February. Coming out onto the street I heard rifle shots coming from the right, from the direction of Baseynaya street.

From neighbors I learned that this shooting came from the direction of the barracks of the Volynsky Regiment, which that night rose against the government.

Heading down along Nevsky, I crossed Znamenskaya Square without hindrance and it was already noon when I got to Liteyny and Vladimirsky Prospect where, at the crossing of these streets with Nevsky, a platoon of soldiers stood in a half circle under the command of an officer who, speaking with a Polish accent, demanded that the gathered crowd disperse.

The subsequent sound of a horn, with which by the rules of Martial Status they announced to the crowd that the army is about to open fire, forced the crowd to run in all directions. I took to my heels and lay prone in the first gateway. When no shots followed, within several minutes I rose and headed on foot, since the trams were not plying, along Zagorodny Prospect toward the Technological Institute with the intention of eating there. There was almost no traffic on the streets. Here and there people stood in clusters and discussed the situation created by the insurrections among the troops of the Petrograd garrison.

There was electricity in the air. The complete absence of police - of "pharaohs" - who by that time were already hiding, struck me. The policeman whom I met going past the Czarskoselski Railroad Station also vanished hurriedly upon hearing threatening shouts from the crowd. Having dined in the "Technolozhka", I returned through deserted streets and dropped in on my sister Emma on Troitskaya. It was almost twilight when, around four in the afternoon, I left Emma's apartment and, heading home, I went out onto Nevsky.

I could not believe my eyes when I saw that on Nevsky, from the side of the Admiralty, trucks with red flags were moving filled with armed soldiers and workers proclaiming revolutionary slogans which met with support from the then still not numerous crowd on the street.

Everything around me showed that what yesterday still seemed so distant and incredible had finally occurred.

That the dreams and aspirations consecrated with the greatest sacrifices of a number of generations of the best sons of Russia were finally fulfilled.

That the hated autocracy, so long held up by bayonets, now, abandoned by all - even the "pharaohs", had finally collapsed.

The symbol of the old regime, the building of the Alexandro-Nevskaya Police Station, located right there on Nevsky, beyond Znamenskaya Square, was in flames, proclaiming this beyond any doubt.

Having merged with the crowd which was increasing minute by minute, I became an indivisible part of it in an attack of "mass psychosis". When we came up to Liteyny Prospect, illuminated by the conflagration of the already burning building of the Distict Court, the crowd, working with crowbars, broke into two weapon stores located on Liteyny - the Chizhov and T.V Gunsmiths.

Following the example of others, I stole a double-barrel shotgun on which hung a tag with the price - 240 rubles. Waving the shotgun, part of the crowd, with the shout: "we won't let it be put out!" I blocked the way on Nevsky to the fire brigade which headed to the burning police building.

We let the fire brigade through when we received the assurance that "we won't put out the police building fire; we'll only safeguard the surrounding houses".

In this revolution my double-barrel shotgun, still without bullets, replaced a military weapon with success, since in this decisive hour for the autocracy not a single person could be found in the capital who would come forward to its defense with a weapon in his hands.

The February Revolution was nicknamed the "great and bloodless". It deserved the title of "great", since its consequences were enormous and indelible - the February Revolution laid the beginning to events which in all respects altered conditions of life in the Russian Empire beyond recognition. It was also "bloodless", since the government, being confronted with the fact of insurrection in the capital garrison, did not make a single attempt to restore the situation. The old regime fell at the first push, like an overripe fruit falls from the tree. The old government disintegrated immediately at the very beginning of the crisis and all its members either ran, or hid themselves, or sought protection in the government Duma - the only organ of the old order which continued not only to function, but, with the strength of events, along with the legislative functions had to take over also those of the executive power, forming a committee for this purpose into the composition of which entered leaders of all the parties, headed by N. Rodzyanko, the Chairman of the Duma.

As regards events in the evening of the historic 27th of February, 1917, which I personally witnessed - having merged with a crowd and moving up along Nevsky, on Znamenskaya Square we ran into a crowd which came from the direction of Goncharnaya street.

Everyone in this crowd, consisting predominantly of teenagers, had one or two military rifles in his hands and many of them were girdled with cartridge belts with live ammunition. This weaponry was from the military arsenal located on Goncharnaya Street, which the crowd broke into, handing everyone a weapon. Weaponry thus found itself in the hands of people either not mature or not skilled enough to handle it.

In the following days this fact was the reason for many misunderstandings and for confused shooting that in its turn delayed the normalization of life in the capital for several days.

Moving on further, I came to the burning many-storied police building (the Alexandro-Nevskaya station). Here I was witness as the crowd gave vent to its feelings of accumulated hatred for the old regime.

At that time, when the upper stories stood in flames, the crowd in the lower stories were all dedicated to destruction.

Having broken in, some threw through the windows everything they found within - czarist portraits, police statements, tables, chairs, office utensils and much else, even some dummies (from the police museum, as I was explained). Those downstairs grabbed everything, tore it to pieces, broke it, stamped on it with their feet to the crowd's cries of exultation and threw it into a fire - a big bonfire built on the spot on the street.

I roamed about the streets until midnight. At first the suddenness of the change filled me with a feeling of amazement. Could it be, I asked myself, that the passionately desired, which yesterday still seemed such a distant and unrealizable dream, has become a fact?

But with each hour which, bringing no changes, still further convinced me that the fall of the old regime had really occurred, the feeling of doubt gave way to a feeling of exultation.

At last the road to freedom and prosperity was open for all the peoples populating Russia!

In the early morning of the 28th of February, David and I went out of our house. Heading along the Nevsky to Znamenskaya Square, we ran into an enormous croud, partially armed, which ran toward us in a panic. They shouted to us that "general Ivanov, at the head of a battalion of Georgian cavalry, is firing upon Znamenskaya Square from the Nikolayevsky Station" - from where in reality explosions similar to shots were heard.

David and I lingered on and then continued on our way when it became clear that this was not the firing of the troops of general Ivanov, but shells in the cellar of the burning Alexandro-Nevakaya Station building exploding from the fire.

We came to Znamenskaya Square when, from the other side, moving from the direction of the Admiralty, an enormous column of several thousand people entered the square, consisting of armed soldiers of all units and kinds of outfits of the Petrograd garrison. With this the complete absence of members of the commanding cadre struck me.

In those transitional days, fearing bloody exploits on the part of soldiers ( those actually did take place in the fleet, at Cronstadt and were distinguished by extraordinary cruelty), all officers, with rare exceptions, abandoned their units.
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