A Personal Record

DAMEN, POMERANIA, February 22, 1920.
Since the revolution of February, 1917, we have scarcely been able to correspond, so little could be said on post-cards. But now at last I can tell you of what I have been through. Even in Petrograd, in the early days, the situation was alarming. I always dressed as simply as possible when I went out, in order not to attract attention. One day I was walking with my brother along the Nevski Prospect. Just ahead of us we noticed a strange group. A well-dressed woman in tears was taking off her clothes in the middle of the street. Before her stood a soldier with his girl, who already had the lady’s fur coat and hat in her arms. When the girl was given the silk dress, as well, we heard the soldier say to the lady, — ‘Thank you, madame. Now hurry along home, so as not to catch cold,’ at the same time forcing the girl’s dirty handkerchief into her hand.

Such things often occurred.

In April we returned to Dorpat, in Livonia, our province in Baltic Russia, Dorpat was quieter than Petrograd. We had many friends and relatives there. The people, the Esthonians, were always celebrating their republic and the new autonomous government proclaimed after the revolution. My cousin’s old overseer, even though he was educated above the average, said, ‘How fine! Now we have an automobile.’ He meant autonomy. The people are still very ignorant, yet want to rule.

There were many fires in the city. The soldiers, who came ostensibly to help, stole all they could. During April and May companies of Lett and Esthonian soldiers, as well as Russian soldiers, civilians, and even women, searched all the houses and apartments for wine or alcohol. I carefully hid our last bottles of old Madeira in my mattress, so they found nothing when they came to us. Twenty-four soldiers went to my brother’s apartment, one night and took a case containing thirty bottles of fine old wine. The next day we heard that the entire personnel of one of the hospitals was drunk! Just outside the town was a big brewing establishment belonging to an English company, the Tivoli. The cellars were large and strong, filled with beer and different wines. One night the soldiers and other ‘honorable’ people stormed the building, broke in, and drank without stopping. Two or three of them, dead drunk, fell into the big fermentation vat — their bodies were found there. All next day one saw drunken men, women, and young girls, sleeping in the streets and gardens, stretched out on the ground. There were comical sights, too. One clever soldier had filled his leather trousers with wine after carefully tying up the legs. People carried away the wine in barrels and big pitchers.

After this the summer passed quietly enough. We feared more trouble in the autumn and winter.

In November the Bolshevist soldiers and their friends searched the apartments again. There was no wine. They took food, clothing, and jewelry. They came oftener every week, nearly always during the night. Unhappy were they who had not hidden their silver and jewelry! A band of these people went to Aunt Axella’s house one evening and tore her wedding-ring from her finger. She had no other jewelry. Her daughter was wearing a simple little ring which she did not wish to give up. She told them it was not worth anything. No matter; they forced it from her, hitting her in the back. The same band came to our apartment the next night. They found no silver or jewelry — all we possessed we had buried in a corner of our park at Lustifer before we left there. I was wearing my Roman pearl earrings only, and Marianne a little silver bracelet. They tore them off, hurting us badly. They always carried knives.

The news from Petrograd grew worse. No one was safe anywhere. In the country the Bolsheviki were beginning their work. A band of them, composed of Esthonian soldiers, ruled everything at Lustifer, our estate. They made our fine château very dirty. They held meetings every day and obliged all to come. After these meetings the leader, an Esthonian sailor, would have a dance in our largest reception room. The men were always well armed. From time to time we heard what went on from the overseer and housekeeper, both good people and faithful to us. They were heartbroken, but could do nothing. The Bolsheviki took our horses and used everything we owned. Thus the year 1917 ended. Each day had its surprises, but we were thankful that our lives were left us, and we still hoped that reason would win out and bring us peace and quiet at last. Our nerves were on edge — we never knew what would happen. Shots were heard at night, and frequently during the day too.t;

The New Year did not begin well. Lett and Esthonian commissions went through all the apartments, requisitioning rooms for their people. They took two rooms in our apartment. They took almost the entire house of Uncle Boris to use as a casino for Bolshevist soldiers. There were two respectable Russian officers billeted on my brother. He was glad to have them — these poor souls suffered a great deal from the sad times. The commission returned to us the end of January and said roughly that the rooms would be occupied next day. We were in despair. The little dwelling which we refugees had taken was almost under the roof, and three more persons were coming into it!

The following morning, the first, a Russian officer, arrived. Toward evening came the other two — Jewish students turned soldiers — true Bolsheviki ! The Jews took the big room which served us as sitting-room, dining-room, and all. The Russian lieutenant occupied Benita’s room. He was quiet and pleased with everything. The Jews were constantly shouting at us. They wanted everything imaginable and were never content. I always told them we were refugees and had nothing ourselves. One day they got the same Lettish commission — fearful people — to return. One of them said that, if we did not satisfy these gentlemen, ten soldiers would be quartered on us. Oh, my dear, you don’t know the terrible moments we went through! I was beside myself and told him what I thought of him. He was so angry that he sprang at me and twisted my arm so violently that my cries were heard in the street. When people came running in, this beautiful commission quickly made off. The Jews were more polite from that day, but my arm pained me for a long time.

Silver, jewelry, and food were not enough. They started now on a hunt for bourjoui (capitalists — those who owned something). Our men were arrested day and night, — women and young girls too, — and dragged before the Soviet. The women were held a day, but the men were shut up in a big hospital and very severely treated. Their daughters and wives brought them food; if they dared exchange a few words, one of the Bolsheviki was always near to spy and treat them badly. My sister-in-law’s two brothers had a very hard time. My brother was fortunate — he was able to hide himself and so escaped being arrested. He was obliged to remain hidden fifteen days.

There was shooting in the streets day and night. We went out as little as possible. Twenty Bolsheviki used to ride around in a big camion, firing off their guns to frighten the people. One day when I was in the street they came along. An old woman and a child were walking ahead of me. The Bolsheviki wanted to frighten us and fired. It was awful. The poor old woman fell down from fright. One shot passed near me among some trees; the other ruffians had fired into the air.

We were safe at home in the evenings, but always haunted by the fear that the Bolsheviki would return. Our Jews, very polite now, told me one day that they would protect us from the other Bolsheviki — we could rest assured we would not be disturbed again.

The report was that the German troops were advancing on Dorpat. The people were very excited.

The morning of February 10 one of our Jews came to speak to me, saying it was true the Germans would soon arrive. ‘We know it well,’ said he, rubbing his hands together. He went on to say he was so happy with us, and begged us to let him stay on after the Germans arrived. He would even like to pay board for himself and his friend. I told him — because you had to be very careful with these people—that we were delighted he wanted to remain with us and was at last happy, but he must remember that another government was probably coming and it was possible they would take the room without asking us; however, we would do all we could to keep it for him. He was very pleased. These two Jews always had company and made a terrible noise. They were the source of much of our misery.

On the nineteenth of February the Russian officer who was billeted on us came in very much upset. He said that it was now certain the German troops were coming and that he must leave at once. He took his trunk and we never saw him again. Poor fellow, who knows what happened to him?

The twenty-first of February we heard that all our men who were imprisoned in the hospital had been taken away in the night to Petrograd by the Letts and Esthonians. From there they were sent to Siberia. The following days were most alarming. Scarcely anyone remained except women and children. We were sure some trick was going to be played on us.

The twenty-third of February the Germans were just outside the city. Very early that morning my brother, and seven other men, who also had escaped the Bolsheviki, came from their hiding-places and started in sledges for our estate, to capture the Bolsheviki who were still there. Everything went well. They reached Lustifer in the evening. My brother first went to the overseer’s house. He asked him the news. ‘For Heaven’s sake, master,’ said the faithful old overseer, ‘don’t enter the chateau! There is another big meeting and the men are all armed.’

My brother posted one of his friends before the entrance, another before a window of the drawing-room. With the others he entered the house. In the dining-room they found a man whom they easily disarmed. When they reached the drawing-room all the Bolsheviki leaped up from the table, seized their guns and fired. Luckily they aimed badly; none of our men was hurt. One of the Bolsheviki tried to jump out of the window: Boris shot him. He fell in the snow. Another, badly wounded, rolled on the floor. A third, a sailor, ran up to the next floor and tried to jump from the balcony: the friend of my brother who was outside caught him and shot him through the head. So the fight ended well. Boris put all the Bolsheviki in the dining-room, hands above their heads, and disarmed them. One young sport, who had stayed in his room that evening they had to pull out of bed. The prisoners were locked up in the cellar for the Germans to sentence later.

The morning of February 24 my brother and his friends returned safely to Dorpat, delighted to have regained his property. The entire town was in turmoil — the German troops were to enter any moment.

At eleven oclock we saw the first German soldiers. What a joy — now there would be some sort of order! That same day a train of sailors was to have come to Dorpat to take most of our women also to Siberia. The Germans had halted this train several stations outside and made all the Bolsheviki prisoners. Unfortunately they did not shoot them.

Spring and summer went by well enough under German government, though the government made many mistakes. As a rule it was too weak, and also it estranged the best people. We spent the summer at our beloved Lustifer, in the overseer’s cottage—the German General Staff was quartered in the château.

In the autumn misery began again. The Bolsheviki were returning by way of Plescau, and mingling with the Letts and Esthonians, who are very Bolshevistic in their ideas and character. The country was no longer safe. Everyone went to live in town. The early part of December, 1918, found us back in Dorpat, living in the apartment of an aunt who had already taken refuge in Riga. Here we hoped to be able to remain; but in a week the situation became so grave that everyone said, ‘Sauve qui pent’; so we packed our trunks. The big ones we were obliged to leave in Dorpat, some in my aunt’s apartment, some with the owner of a shop — a very good friend of ours who promised to hide them. We left Dorpat with hand luggage only.

The train was full of retreating soldiers and fugitives like ourselves. It was due to leave at six o’clock in the morning, but through chicanery of the Esthonians we were kept until three in the afternoon. After an hour’s journey the train stopped at a wayside station. The engine was broken. The Esthonians gave us no other. We had to wait, there nearly all night. The next morning we got an engine with a German engine-driver from the town of Walk. We arrived at Riga about ten o’clock next day. Ordinarily this journey takes nine hours. We were almost thirty-six hours en route.

The first few days we lived in the Ritterhaus. The large rooms had been prepared for refugees. The third day we found some rooms with a very nice family, and decided to stop in Riga. We did not want to go to Germany. We were hoping all along that the German troops would remain and the Letts would come to their senses; but after ten days we understood only too well that all was over. Most of the German troops had already gone, as well as the wealthy townspeople and the Baltic German population. The Bolshevist forces had taken Walk and Werro the week before, and on January 3, 1919, the last German boat left the port of Riga under Bolshevist fire.

What cares and sadness surrounded us! We felt absolutely alone in the world. We had no news from Dorpat. We only knew that the Bolshevist terror reigned again. My sisters and I scarcely ever went out. The Bolsheviki would often stop people in the street, and shoot them without waiting to find out whether they belonged to the Whites and had a brother or husband in the Baltic regiment, or not.

Their first work was to empty the shops of materials, shoes, and comestibles, which they sent back into Russia and sold for enormous prices.

Fortunately for us, we had a great many friends and relatives who had remained in Riga. Each day arrests were made. Many of our friends were thrown into prison and miserably treated. Anyone who looked respectable was in great danger. Old gentlemen, women, young girls — the Bolsheviki made no exception. They searched with lists; not for an hour were you safe from them. One night eight armed civilians came and searched our two rooms. In one lived old Uncle Ivan and Aunt Tatiana. Aunt Tatiana was ill. The Bolsheviki confiscated nearly all our dresses and underwear, and some of my brother’s clothes which I had hidden with mine. Some weeks later they came again, took all our food, and arrested poor Uncle and Auntie because they had heard their son was in the Baltic regiment. It was terrible, and we could do nothing for our poor old relatives.
The Bolsheviki made everyone in the prisons work for them. The women and young girls were obliged to clean out the lavatories and wash the bodies of the people who had been killed. There was a battalion of women Bolsheviki, among whom were little girls of thirteen and fourteen. They were all very elegant — silk gowns, furs, fine shoes, and covered with jewels. These creatures were absolute devils, worse than the men. It was often this Womens’ Battalion which made the executions. A friend who was kept in one of the prisons told me the windows looked on the courtyard and frightful scenes took place there. The women Bolsheviki were poor shots; so were the men sometimes, and on purpose; so they would only wound their poor victims, and then beat them to death with the butts of their rifles. Often they took their victims to the country, just outside the city, by the Duna (the river), where they made them dig large holes. Then they tore off their clothes, men and women, and shot them or killed them in another terrible way. After that they threw their bodies in the holes. Among the prisoners were often simple people who possessed some small means and had not revolutionary ideas.

The ideas of the Bolsheviki are: that no one may possess more than another, that everything must be shared. No marriage — the woman is there for everyone. Children will be brought up by the state. Money shall not exist: coupons will be given for the amount of work done, and special organizations provide the necessary supplies.

We have since heard that poor old Uncle Ivan was shot, and later Aunt Tatiana died of typhus.

Many of the prisoners were sent to an island in the Duna, and allowed to take with them only as much food and clothing as they could carry themselves. Hundreds died of hunger, especially the children. A very young friend of mine was arrested and thrown into prison; her husband had been killed the week before. The poor little thing was enceinte — she expected her baby in four or five days. She was shot without pity.

There was a big building in Riga containing forty small apartments. The Bolsheviki turned out all the occupants — men, women, old people, and children. They killed some of them, some they let go, others were obliged to live in the cellars.

One day, about two hundred children of different classes were driven past me in the street. It was a heart-rending sight. They were being taken to their death. They were all shot on the dunes near the city. When I think of it, my heart fails me.

In the market-place at Mittau the Bolsheviki shot a pretty and charming little fourteen-year-old girl. They tore off her clothes and made her dig her own grave before shooting her. The child died without a cry.

The educated prisoners all died like heroes, whereas the others shrieked and pleaded for mercy. It was frightful for those left alive.

Thus the terrible months passed. We still hoped that some day our Baltic regiment — the Whites — would come to deliver us.

The Bolsheviki allowed no news of the outside world to reach us — we knew nothing of what was happening. It was now the middle of May, and the sound of cannon, which we had heard since the beginning of the month, had come nearer. We were at the end of our strength. How all the poor people in the prisons suffered! Words fail me. My heart is still too heavy to tell of their martyrdom.

The 21st of May, in spite of the danger, I went out to see a cousin and her children who lived near by. She had been as fortunate as ourselves all were alive and well. Her momentary misfortune was that she and the two children had practically nothing to put on. A few days before, the Bolsheviki had begun to confiscate clothes, underclothes, and so forth. Each person was allowed to retain only two pieces of underclothes, one dress, one coat, one pair of shoes, two pairs of sheets for the bed, one towel. That was all. It was the same for men and children. The commission had already been to my poor cousin. She was disconsolate. I expected it myself each day.

There was great excitement all the morning of the 22nd. The White troops seemed to be drawing nearer, their aeroplanes were flying over the city. There was much firing at them from the roofs. The aeroplanes dropped bombs on the Bolshevist troops, who began to flee. When I went out to try to buy some food about eleven o’clock, the panic had reached its height; the terror-stricken Bolsheviki rushed past on foot, on horseback, in wagons. The streets were full of them, the elegant women of the battalion, soldiers, men and women in civilian clothes — all were trying to escape, and carrying big bundles in their hands and on their backs. I had much difficulty getting out of this pell-mell; had I fallen, I should have been trampled to death by the crowd.

I had reached home and had stood for some time at my window, whence I could see two streets seething with a mass of humanity; Everyone was running, yelling, with faces disfigured by fear. The sound of shooting and the whistling of bombs filled the air. Overhead were the aeroplanes, flying back and forth from their lines, observing the situation.

While I was watching this strange scene, the street emptied suddenly, as if swept by a mighty broom in the hands of a giant. The terrible crowd was gone. A great wind sprang up. The sun came from behind the clouds. I could not understand it. I had the sensation of clasping my hands. A bullet whistled past, and I could scarcely believe my eyes — three young men in the uniform of our Baltic regiment appeared at the head of the street.

So the Whites were really in the city!

I flung open the window crying, ‘Hurrah!’

They answered, laughing, ‘Shut the window; there is still firing!’

A few minutes later I was in the street with many others; everyone cried ‘Hurrah!’ asked questions, wept. The people were nearly crazy with joy at being delivered. I inquired for relatives who were in the Baltic regiment. Happily they were alive and well.

That afternoon I talked with an officer of the regiment, who told me all about the advance. The deeds of our Baltic troops were almost superhuman. The first to enter Riga were seventyfive men — part of the Stossiruppe. Forty versts, they had come, without stopping, bringing two small guns. They galloped into the city across the pontoon bridge. They drew up their guns alongside of the quay and began a rapid fire; then house-to-house fighting began. Two hours later more Baltic troops arrived with two armored cars.

In the meantime the seventy-five heroes of the Stossiruppe had taken a large part of the city. They reached the prisons just in time to prevent the fleeing Bolsheviki from shooting most of the poor prisoners. The fighting in the streets and around the prisons was terrible. Many of our brave young men lost their lives. German reinforcements arrived during the afternoon. Our heroes were worn out after such efforts, and you saw them sleeping on the pavement.

The Bolsheviki bombarded the suburbs of Riga a whole day before retreating farther. Nor did the street fighting end at once. I often saw dead bodies lying about.

One morning we heard a shot in our courtyard. Our servant, a very fine Lettish woman, came and told us a Bolshevist Lett had just been killed there. He was a well-known commissar. It was most unpleasant for us, as bodies were always left several days where they fell. This dead Bolshevist was just under our kitchen window, in full sunshine of the month of May. Every day his face became more disfigured. There was a large hole in his head. Oh, I can never forget that terrible face and those ferocious eyes — immense, wide open, and his skin turning green. When I cannot sleep, all these sad and fearful sights return to me! Every day he was less clothed. First his boots were stolen, then his coat. We dared not open the windows which gave on the courtyard.

We were able to leave Riga on the 31st of May, thanks to our troops. We traveled comfortably and safely with some of the soldiers as far as Libau, and from there to Kbnigsberg, where the Germans took good care of all us poor refugees. We remained in Königsberg several months; then we received a kind invitation to come to an estate in Pomerania, where we are now. In the spring we shall leave, as we have at last found means to earn our living in a small way. A cousin, also a refugee from Russia, is to run a boarding-house at a summer resort on the North Sea. We are to be the maids. It will be hard work, but not bad, as we shall all be domestics together.

God grant that the Bolsheviki cease their terrible deeds, and that they do not become stronger! No one can imagine what Bolshevism really means — it is ‘death to everything!’

I have tried to tell you in this letter the horrors of Bolshevist rule.

Je vous embrasse mille fois!

  1. The writer of this letter is a Russian lady, sprung from an old family, who before the war owned a vast estate called Lustifer, in Livonia. It is in substance an account of experiences in Dorpat and Riga after the revolution. It was written in French, since the author is unfamiliar with English, to a cousin, Miss Edna C. Latrobe, who vouches for its authenticity and kindly permits its publication by the Atlantic. The letter has been literally translated by Miss Latrobe.—THE EDITOR.