An Alien in the USSR
1939 – 1941
When they reached Moscow on June 18, 1939, Marina and Murg were put-up in a big, rundown dacha in the suburb of Bolshevo, where Alya and Sergey were already staying practically under house arrest. The place was rented, if not by the NKVD, then by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They shared the house with the family of another Soviet agent, who had recently returned. Marina was short-tempered and tensions were high. Efron was being paid a small sum by the NKVD but had no work. Marina and Murg had still no Soviet documents, all three were entirely helpless. Alya had a job, friends, and a lover in Moscow, she rarely came home, and when she did displayed a false gaiety, which her mother quickly unmasked. Their relatioship was at best frosty. [VS p.350]
Eventually, Marina was allowed to visit their relatives, her former friends avoided all contact. - Except for Boris Pasternak, who had the courage to briefly meet Marina clandestinely at Elizaveta Efron's place. Marina finally understood what it meant to live in constant terror of the authories, and with her usual exaggerated sensitivity refrained from pressing herself on anyone.
The respite in Bolshevo lasted until August 28, 1939 when first Alya was suddenly arrested, and on October 10, 1939 Sergey and the other NKVD agent. Marina and Mur were ordered to leave the dacha. Elizaveta Efron put them up in her single room. Marina had become an official non-person, without papers and without a place to stay. It was at this point that Pasternak came to her aid. He put her in contact with Viktor Goltsev a writer and translator, who gave her some translation work. With this job eventally came an internal identification card and a residence permit. She was told to move to Golitsyno, an hour and a half west of Moscow (December 1939). She and Mur had to find their own room in the village, but were allowed to eat with other writers at the local “House of Creativity”.
Marina was paid the usual rate of 4 rb [rubels] per line, but worked so conscientiously slowly that in the spring of 1940 she earned a mere 770 rb per month. The meals at the House of Creativity cost 830 rb, the lodging 250 rb per month [from her notebooks, and VS p.362]. In April she saw herself forced to buy only one meal coupon - the lion share went to Mur. She went back to her 1919-practice of begging for and occasionally stealing a piece of bread from the tables of friends she visited.
imagination could have prepared Marina of what life in the USSR would
be like for her. She blamed Alya for presenting a rosy picture, but
what else could Alya have written? Everybody was scared of the
authorities. Marina simply could not imagine the terror that reigned
there. As she left for the USSR, she had abandoned all hope of
writing poetry again. She was much too proud to stoop to the level of
the established writers. Now she realized that she was not even
tempted to write. The terminology in use had changed so much that the
spoken Russian was no longer the same. But worse was the fact that
old and new friends avoided her. She was lonelier than ever before –
an alien in her own country.
It was not only that she had officially become “an enemy fo the people”, the wife of two political prisoners, her whole appearance was alien. Paranoia among the ordinary citizen in Moscow was still abnormally high in the 1980s, and much higher then, viz., Mikhail Bulgakov's first chapter in “Master and Margarita” where the devil in the guise of Woland undermines the sense of reality of righteous Berlioz. Who was this foreigner Marina in her outlandish clothes, with a Parisian handbag and a collection of silver bangles and rings on her arms and hands? And she, like Woland, spoke a fluent if antiquated Russian! All of this was made more suspicious by her erect hauteur, by her sharp tongue. Poor nearsighted Marina still wore no glasses and couldn't tell whom she was talking to or remember their faces. The writers in the House of Creativity fell silent, when she entered at dinner time. [VS p. 354]
Alya and Sergey were kept imprisoned in Moscow. Marina spent endless hours waiting in line to bring clothes and food for her two family members. At least she knew that they were still alive. Early in 1940 Alya was sentenced by a special commission to ten years of hard labor – for espionage! Efron was sentenced by a military court and dissappeared. On her next routine visit to his prison, Marina was told that he was no longer there, and that she should write to Beria personally for permission to visit Sergey. Her two letters to Beria are preserved, touching examples of her naïve belief in Beria's humanitarian generosity. Marina would never see Sergey or Alya again, but she was able to send letters to Alya until her evacuation to Elabuga. – Beria, of course, never answered her appeal on Sergey's behalf. – In those days, Sergey's disappearance from the records of the prison system was equivalent to him having been sentenced to death. Sergey was shot, apparently in 1941. It is not clear when or where. As I see it, this knowledge was probably the major reason for Marina's suicide.
She had returned to Russia, to be near and care for her family members. That long-standing promise to herself had come to an end. She was no longer needed by anyone. There was only Mur. She had been able to find a school for him, but she felt that she increasingly stood in his way of becoming a Soviet citizen. She was in a terribel state of depression. Her life-long thought of committing suicide grew more urgent by the month.
At this point Germany invaded Russia, - her Germany! It was a terrible blow to her dearest childhood values. She had already suffered for the Czechs, now Russia seemed to collaps at an alarming rate to the German onslaught. The invasion had an immediate effect: On August 17, 1941 she and Murg were evacuated from Moscow to Elabuga, a remote town on the river Kama in the Tatarstan Republic. She wrote three last letters recommending Mur to the care of various people. – On August 31, 1941, two weeks after her arrival in Elabuga she hanged herself.
The idea of suicide is disturbing to people. Not surprisingly her suicide has generated various explanations for its ultimate reasons. Immediately after her arrival in Elaburga Marina wrote a letter to the Writers Union requesting employment as a translator. And on August 26 she wrote a brief note to the Council of the Literary Fund in Chistopol, the seat of the administration of the region, asking to be employed as a dishwasher. But as Viktoria Schweitzer notes, “Tsvetaeva had no wish to translate or wash dishes, she was determined to do away with herself.” Schweitzer gives an account of her last months [VS p.374-378]. It is based on personal interviews and a wealth of information, which I do not feel entitled to reproduce here.
In 1943 BorisPasternak wrote a belated requiem for his friend