Autobiography of an Exile

L. S. Tsel’merovskii, Letter to Presidium of Supreme Soviet. September 13, 1938


L. S. Tsel’merovskii, a 19-year-old factory worker, described the adversities that befell his family in his letter to the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet. His letter is also noteworthy for its detailed account of how the state treated exiles in the late 1930s.

Original Source: GARF, f. 7523, op. 123, d. 202, ll. 16-20. Original manuscript.


I was born in 1919 in the city of Petrozavodsk to the family of the city’s assistant commandant. At the age of two I moved to Leningrad and when I was eight I went to school and finished seven grades and entered an energy technicum. I left in my second year and went to work at the Russian Diesel Plant as a an apprentice model maker. As a Komsomol member promoted at work, I was then sent to a flying club for pilot training. But at that point the whole affair… my father (he was arrested and I am exiled as a family member without trial) (I wasn’t even interrogated).

A few words about my father.

My mother told me that he was banished to the Northern camps for being a malcontent. I personally would never believe it (he was arrested under [Article] 58), because I myself heard him tell his sisters how he fought the Whites in the North. He told us about his exploits. When S. M. Kirov was assassinated, he cried. He was an inventor a shockworker and received bonuses several times. Recently he was working at military plant No. 7 as an assembly worker.

It is hard to decide what kind of person he is; maybe all this is a clever cover. He told me a few times that he had been in Warsaw. …

What I think is that since my father is guilty of something, let him answer for himself, but I am by no means going to suffer the disgrace that he has caused. I want to serve in the Red Army. I want to be a Soviet citizen with equal rights since I feel that I am worthy of that title since I was educated by a Soviet school in a Soviet spirit and therefore my views are obviously completely different so therefore it is heartbreaking for me to have the paper of an alien person.

Then I also have two little sisters, poor girls. They are both 13 years old and both of them are in school either in the sixth or seventh grade. Both are Young Pioneers and are good students. I am afraid that by the time they are supposed to get an internal passport they will be issued some kind of soiled document (they live with their mother in the city of Kazalinsk).

Now it is just about time to register for the military draft, and next year is the call-up. So I ask you to consider my status and restore the title of Soviet citizen to me.

Life is hard for me now. I have even become depressed. It hurts the way people look at me as somebody alien and my heart is beginning to ache. After all I am just 18 and I have already been stripped of the rights of a Soviet citizen. I have completely lost my grip because I make enough just for bread and now my mother too is writing that if you have a spare kopek then send it to me but I am barely staying alive myself and sometimes my heart aches so badly that I feel like crying and it goes without saying that if you do not help me I will not turn into a human being but will turn into some kind of tramp. It’s very hard but I am bearing up I remember my dream of being a shipbuilding engineer. I ask you Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin to consider my status I ask you not to deny my request.

When I was in school I attended a riflery club and was considered the best shot in school with a small-gauge shotgun. When I’m needed I won’t miss with a military rifle either. I know the Red Army needs snipers.

Lev Sigizmundovich Tsel’merovskii
Chimkent, Kazakhstan general delivery

Source: Lewis Siegelbaum and Andrei Sokolov, eds., Stalinism as a Way of Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), Document 82.

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