Poets’ Destiny

In 1937, Dmitry Friedrichsburg and Wilhelm Zorgenfrei were arrested during Stalinist purges. What else could they expect with annoying, anti-Soviet names like that, right?

But it was even worse. Dmitry was a chemistry student, which nobody should be with a politically unreliable last name like Friedrichsburg. And Wilhelm was a literary critic who specialized in the work of Alexander Blok, one of the greatest poet’s of Russian modernism.

Zorgenfrei died in prison. Friedrichsburg uncharacteristically survived. But while they were tortured in jail where they ended up sharing a cell, they both wrote poetry. Knowing that survival was unlikely, they somehow managed to write down a few of the poems on tiny scraps of paper and sew them into the seams of the shirts they sent back to Dmitry’s mother. It was mortally dangerous to keep the scraps of paper, so they were destroyed. Thankfully, one of the only two people who had had a chance to read Zorgenfrei’s last poem had a good memory and remembered it by heart.

In 1991, she finally had the freedom to publish the poem and the story. It was a brief period of time when people cared about Stalinist crimes and wanted to hear from the victims. Since then, these two poets (and all other victims of Stalinism) have been forgotten a lot more effectively than even in Soviet times.

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