top of page

Mikhail Mindlin – miraculously escaped death in the Stalinist Gulag. Born in 1909 in Yekaterinoslav (today it is the city of Dnipro), he, in his own words, was brought up as an ordinary Octobrist, then a pioneer. After graduating from 8 classes of a labor school, at the age of 16 he joined the Komsomol and, as befits a real proletarian, got a job as a milling machine operator at the Moscow Tool Plant (MIZ). And he devoted all his free time to building a new society, carried away by the Komsomol work – he was a “military organizer”.

In the summer of 1929, Mikhail Mindlin, together with other young workers of Moscow enterprises, inspired by the ideas of socializing everyday life, became the organizer of the then fashionable commune. This kind of community was supposed to play a propagandistic role: socialism presupposed the collectivization of personal life, and the masses needed illustrative examples.

The Moscow Komsomol member Mindlin got acquainted with the true state of affairs in the country very soon. In the winter of 1929, along with other advanced workers – “twenty-five thousand”, he was mobilized to the village to carry out collectivization. If in the capital the young communards were simply not rich, then in the Mordovian village on the middle Volga, where the party sent him, absolute poverty reigned.

They demanded to drive absolutely all families to the collective farms, but Mindlin could not pressure the half-starved peasants, who had at most a thin horse and a feeding cow out of all their property. For insubordination and disruption of collectivization in the village councils assigned to him, Mindlin was expelled from the Komsomol.

He was restored again after a successful sowing campaign and the publication of Stalin's article “Dizziness with success”. Mindlin, without driving all the Soviet peasants to the collective farm, returned to his native MIZ.

Having married his girlfriend Maria Vyalkinskaya, he was soon drafted for a year in a separate training tank regiment, which was stationed in Lefortovo. By the decision of the Central Committee of the party, Mikhail was left to serve in the army in extra-urgent service and was appointed commander and political commander of a separate tank company.

Mikhail Mindlin's belief in Stalin's ignorance, like his quiet life, did not last long. By the summer of 1937, many of his colleagues in the Osoaviakhim (Society for the Promotion of Defense, Aviation and Chemical Construction) were expelled from the party and arrested. His turn came quickly, on July 13, 1937, when at a meeting of the party organization “for dulling class and revolutionary vigilance, for contacting the enemy of the people R. P. Eideman” he was expelled from the party. The “enemy of the people” Roman Eideman, who was shot a month before, was the head of Osoaviakhim, so absolutely all the chairmen of regional committees subordinate to him were connected with him by “criminal ties”. Actually, by this time they were all already in jails.

The wife begged Mindlin to leave her with her son and hide. Sometimes people really managed to hide in the Caucasus or somewhere in Central Asia, where for a bribe – bakshish – the locals could arrange a residence permit. But Mindlin refused to leave his family.

After the first interrogation and search, Mindlin was awaited by Lubyanka. The latter had to be abandoned almost immediately – unknowingly, he began to discuss the “lawlessness” with an acquaintance in the cell. Less than half an hour later, the acquaintances were summoned one at a time from the cell. The suspect Mindlin was transferred to cell No. 67 of the seventh building of the Butyrka prison.

The investigator was Koshura, already familiar from the first arrest of Mindlin. Koshura demanded recognition that Mindlin, on the instructions of the chairman of the Osoaviakhim Central Council Eideman, had created a counter-revolutionary organization in the region, which was to commit a mass terrorist act against the leaders of the country on May 1, 1937.

Koshura and his colleague who replaced him sought from Mikhail to sign the protocol, which included the names of forty-five people. But in the end, Mindlin was alone in the case: he did not slander a single comrade, despite the beatings and torture.

In response to demands to stop illegal methods of investigation, Mindlin was beaten even more brutally. Face-to-face confrontations were held in the same spirit: “witnesses” scared to death, falsified protocols, where instead of Mindlin's signature there was a resume left by him in the margins: “All this is a lie, slander. There was essentially no confrontation”.

Driven by torture to despair, Mindlin decided to commit suicide and throw himself into the flight of stairs, but a meter from the railing was knocked down by a vigilant guard. After the incident, Koshura was so worried that he would not receive a confession from Mindlin that he had organized the defendant on an “excursion” to the death row in the Pugachev tower.

No legal trial took place. On December 20, 1937, by the decision of the NKVD troika in the Moscow region, Mikhail was sentenced to eight years in forced labor camps for counterrevolutionary Trotskyist activities without losing his rights.

On February 10, 1938, Mindlin arrived at Bamlag (Baikal-Amur Forced Labor Camp), at the Takhtamygda station. Once in the fourth colony of the 1st department of Bamlag, political prisoners fell under the rule of criminals, who were traditionally appointed as foremen. But this was nothing in comparison with the contingent of the Krasnaya Zarya transit prison, where Mindlin was unexpectedly transferred on June 15, 1938.

Contrary to hopes, from the transit prison Mindlin was sent not to Moscow for reconsideration of the case, but to the eastern edge of the Soviet Union – to Vladivostok. On July 10, 1938, he arrived there, then to Magadan and, in the end, ended up in hard labor at the Upper At-Uryakh mine.

For work in open mines, where the prisoners, armed with picks, crowbars, shovels and wheelbarrows, worked hard until late in the evening, they relied on extremely meager grubs. But for the production from 126 to 150 percent of the plan, they received non-category food: 1200 grams of bread and how much you want gruel. Although it is one thing to overfulfill the devil's plan, it is another thing to get the foreman to write down the true state of affairs in the report card. The Soviet concentration camp was a miniature Soviet system: “nepotism, swearing and bullshit” were the main life support strategy.

But Mindlin suddenly got involved and became a “Stakhanovite”. In addition to youth and good physical fitness, which helped him more or less acclimatize and adapt to the 14-hour working day, Mindlin was helped by a ball bearing mounted in the wheelbarrow's axle, which made the “OSO machine” run faster. Sometimes family ties also worked – in Magadan, Mindlin's brother Zakhar worked in a responsible position, who through his acquaintances among the camp ranks achieved certain preferences for his brother.

With the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, for physically strong prisoners all the so-called points and credits earned by hard work were canceled. For Mikhail Mindlin, this meant that instead of the expected release “according to credits” in 1943, his term remained the same, that is, it should have ended only in July 1945.

Mindlin and other specially selected “lucky ones” were sent to the “Jelgala” camp, which was considered a death camp. One of the ways to break out of this hell – go to the front as a military specialist – remained just a hope. Having written a statement with a request to send him to the active army, Mindlin received a counter-proposal – to “snitch” on anti-Soviet-minded prisoners gloating over the failures of the Red Army. Mikhail, despite the terrible conditions of the camp, categorically refused the offer to become a sexot and was left in the zone.

On July 25, 1945, Mindlin's term of imprisonment ended. However, there was no hurry to release him, transferring him to the camp “Ampartakh”, to the felling. Only a year later, on September 14, 1946, while being transported to work, Mikhail was unexpectedly summoned to the camp leadership, where an order was read out to release him from the forced labor camp.

It was not allowed to go home immediately, so the former prisoner was sent to the nearby village of Susuman as an accountant at a motor depot. In April 1947, Mikhail reunited with his family in the Bashkir village of Belebey. There was no point in going further than Bashkiria: Mikhail was banned from living in large cities of the Union.

In spite of everything, the Mindlins' happiness knew no bounds. But the family idyll lasted only two years. In May 1949, Mindlin was arrested again.

The investigation took place in the Ufa internal prison of the NKVD. On July 6, 1949, in the office of the head of the prison building, Mindlin was read a resolution sent from Moscow from the Special Meeting of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs: for counter-revolutionary activities, exile to an eternal settlement in remote areas of the Soviet Union.

Again Mindlin switched to the bread of exile, having got to a logging station in the village of Solyony, Boguchansky District, on the left bank of the Angara.

After some time, Mindlin's wife also arrived in the village, finding a job in the accounting department. Expelled after the first arrest of her husband from the Komsomol and dismissed from her job, she was forced to go to hard unskilled work, while studying accounting courses.

In March 1953, changes began in Solyony. Mindlin and other exiles barely concealed their joy at the death of a mustachioed tyrant. In mid-August 1955, Mikhail, with the permission of the Krasnoyarsk KGB, left for Moscow to seek justice. On October 7, 1955, Mikhail Mindlin was rehabilitated by the military tribunal of the Moscow Military District; his case was closed due to the lack of corpus delicti. In January 1956, he and his wife returned to Moscow and, after long walks in agony, he returned to his native Moscow Instrument Factory, where he worked until his retirement.

In the late 1980s, Mikhail Mindlin, already a widower and a very old man, became the co-chairman of the Cheryomushkinsky regional society of victims of illegal repression, which consisted of the repressed, their relatives and just enthusiasts. He became one of those devotees, thanks to whom thousands of families learned where the life path of their relatives and friends ended.

Since 1991, Mikhail Borisovich was a member of the commission on cases of unreasonably repressed people at the Moscow City Council. At the KGB Directorate for Moscow and the Moscow Region, Mindlin received 9 books with extracts from the execution protocols signed by the People's Commissar of Internal Affairs Yezhov.

These documents concerned only the “Butovsky polygon”, although the volunteers identified at least 12 places where enemies of the people shot in Moscow were buried.

A year later, in 1992, Mindlin assembled and headed a public group for perpetuating the memory of victims of political repression under the Commissions for Victims of Reprisals. This group was engaged in the preparation of biographical information on persons shot in Moscow in the 1920s-1950s and the establishment of their burial places. On the basis of the data found, Mindlin organized the publication of a series of memory books “Butovsky polygon”.

He was also the initiator of the establishment of a granite memorial plate on October 10, 1993 at the Butovsky polygon.

Since 1995, on a voluntary basis, Mindlin also worked in the permanent Interdepartmental Commission of the Moscow Government for the restoration of the rights of rehabilitated victims of political repression.

The card file, collected by Mikhail Mindlin, became the basis of the electronic database “Martyrology of the executed in Moscow and the Moscow region”, which includes more than 20 thousand people. He transferred his personal archive for state storage to the Association of Moscow Archives, the Center for Contemporary Documentation, as well as to the Museum and Public Center “Peace, Progress, Human Rights”.

Mikhail Mindlin died at the age of 89 in Moscow.

...And even in death Mindlin did not calm down. He bequeathed to give part of the proceeds from the sale of his apartment to the monument to those executed and buried on the territory of the Yauzskaya hospital. Of the thousand buried there, only a little more than a hundred people have been rehabilitated to date; their names are on the monument. Our hero will no longer be able to unravel the fate of the rest. But we can go the way he paved...

Mikhail Mindlin

1909 – 1998

bottom of page