They were all burnt by the unsparingly cruel sun of the Revolution, the Piatnitskys, the Radeks, the Bukharins, the Yakirs, the Redenses and Svanidzes (Stalin’s in-laws), the Litvinovs, the Tukhachevskys, the Rakovskys, and countless others. Fully deserved congratulations to Berkeley historian Yury Slezkine for this formidable accomplishment! An apocryphal story claims that, during the Great Terror, the genialissimo generalissimo used to watch from his o…ffice in the Kremlin how the lights turned on and off in the House on the Embankment–the title of a semi-autobiographical novella by Yuri Trifonov. In a recent conversation, Stalin’s biographer Stephen Kotkin told me that this would have been physically impossible. But the vozhd definitely knew what was going on there, who was arrested, whatever happened to the families of those purged. In fact, not only was Koba in the know, but he was in full control, the utimate mastermind of the social cataclysm…
Many residents and their families were detained during Stalin’s terror in the late 1930s, such that the building was dryly referred to as “The House of Preliminary Detention.” (A play on the Russian initialism Допр, from the building’s original name: Дом прави́тельства.) Fully one third of residents disappeared during the terror. The building was in fact an immense mousetrap serving the vindictive appetite of the Black Cat…
Sheila Fitzpatrick in the London Review of Books: “Yuri Slezkine, a master stylist as well as a first-class historian, is the least predictable of scholars. Still, it comes as a surprise to find that the book he has now produced, after long gestation, is a Soviet War and Peace.”
Bulat Okudzhava: Song of the Black Cat (Песенка про чёрного кота)
He doesn’t demand, doesn’t ask,
only his yellow stare glows.
Every cat brings him his catches,
and thanks him besides.
He doesn’t utter a word,
he just eats and drinks.
His claws paw the dirty ground
like they would scratch your throat.
One does wonder why
it’s so gloomy in our block.
We should hang a lamp in the courtyard,
but no way to collect the money.