European Memories

of the Gulag


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Naum Kleiman was born in Kishinev [Romania, now Chișinău, Moldova] in December 1937. His paternal grandparents lived in Bessarabia, then part of Romania. They were arrested in 1941 after the region was annexed by the USSR. His grandfather was sent to the Ivdel camp (Ivdel’lag) in the Urals, and his grandmother was deported to Central Asia. The grandfather died soon after, following a hunger strike, and the grandmother was saved by her son, who bribed local officials to have her declared dead. During the Second World War, Naum Kleiman was evacuated with his mother to the Urals, and his father joined them as a labour battalion conscript. They returned to Kishinev in 1946, but on 6 July 1949 they were all deported to the abandoned village of Yunka near Guryevsk to work in former gold mines, which produced no gold. Naum was, however, allowed to attend school in the neighbouring village of Barit, and then in the city of Guryevsk in spring 1950. Each new permission was for him a step towards freedom. He appreciates the behaviour of the local people and respects the teachers and headmasters who taught him. In 1955 he was released and was preparing to go on to higher education in Frunze (Bishkek), Kyrgyzstan, when he saw an advertisement for a course at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) in Moscow. For some reason he can’t now recall he applied and was accepted. So off he went to Moscow, a further step up in his quest for freedom. He graduated from the VGIK, where during the Khrushchev Thaw lecturers and students were rediscovering the hidden history of Soviet and other cinema. He became a specialist in films, especially those of Eisenstein, which enabled him to travel despite his status as a former special settler. From 1992 to 2014 he was manager of the Moscow State Central Cinema Museum and director of the Eisenstein Centre.

Alain Blum et Irina Tcherneva


Arrest and journey

Naum Kleiman’s family were deported on 6 July 1949. He recalls that the lieutenant in charge of the detachment was highly attentive and helped them. He describes the journey to Guryevsk. Left the train in Belova, travelled on to Stalinsk (now Novokuznetsk). Then took a narrow-gauge line to Guryevsk, then on to a small abandoned village, Yunka, where there were disused gold mines.
He emphasises that they were lucky to be on the second train and not the first, because the first was sent to Irkutsk region, much harsher, whereas their train, the second, was sent to the Kuzbass, where life was less hard.



The other deportation

Naum Kleiman’s paternal grandparents were arrested in 1941, just after the Soviets arrived. His grandfather was sent to Ivdel Camp in the Urals, where he died after a hunger strike. His grandmother was deported to Turkmenistan, where her son found her and “bought” her freedom (after receiving from him some materials in short supply, the local authorities agreed to produce a false death certificate and let them both leave).


Naum Kleiman tells the story of his deportation

This is the narrative of his deportation told by Naum Kleiman during an interview held by Irina Tcherneva and Alain Blum on 25 June 2015 at the Eisenstein Centre in Moscow. There are three separate parts.

Three separate parts can be downloaded: Part I, Part II, Part III.



Survival and mutual aid

Naum Kleiman tells how former kulaks deported in the early 1930s helped his family to find housing in cowsheds and taught them to recognise the mushrooms and berries in the forest to survive.



Work in the mine


Other people and locals’ perception of the deportees

Naum Kleiman describes the local inhabitants’ distrust of his family. One reason was that some of them were former collaborators from the German Hilfspolizei who had accompanied them into deportation and were now indeed stukachi (informers), continuing to spy and report on them. Relations with the permanent residents, on the other hand, appear to have been based on a lack of information, but were also enriched by surprising exchanges that reflected the villagers’ support for the deportees.




I was lucky

The story of Naum Kleiman’s family’s deportation is made up of strokes of luck, opportunities for learning, and chances to survive. Any assessment of these chances was only possible afterwards, when they met other deportees.


Silence and coping with uncertainty

When the deported families arrived in Yunka, they only received inadequate bureaucratic information about their future. Some of their number tried to interpret these fragments and order them so as to reassure the others. In particular, a “baroness” that Naum Kleiman describes, a women who formed a network of mutual support around her.
The 1949-1953 period saw many danger signals in the anti-Semitic campaigns then running in the Soviet Union. At the same time, small improvements in rights and opportunities were occurring, and the family attempted to interpret these contradictory messages, and position themselves in their work and school environment. Naum Kleiman recalls his perception of this period, and can’t help looking for factors that might explain this inconsistency in repression.