by Carl Josehart
We live in a time that it seems that free speech is under attack. The freedoms we enjoy today are the gift of previous generations that have spoken up against tyranny and oppression. In the coming weeks and months I am going to try to highlight and celebrate these brave individuals. One of these heroic voices is Nadezhda Madelstam. She famously said:
“I often wondered whether it is right to scream when you are being beaten and trampled underfoot. Isn’t it better to face one’s tormentors in a stance of satanic pride, answering them with contemptuous silence? I decided that it is better to scream. This pitiful sound, which sometimes, goodness knows how, reaches into the remotest prison cell, is a concentrated expression of the last vestige of human dignity. It is a human’s way of leaving a trace, of telling people how he lived and died. By this scream he asserts his right to live, sends a message to the outside world demanding help and calling for resistance. If nothing else is left, one must scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity.”
Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelstam (1899 – 29 1980) was a Russian writer and a wife of poet Osip Mandelstam. Born in Saratov into a middle-class Jewish family, she spent her early years in Kiev. After their marriage in 1921, Nadezhda and Osip Mandelstam lived in Ukraine, Petrograd, Moscow, and Georgia. Osip was arrested in 1934 for his Stalin Epigram and exiled with Nadezhda to Cherdyn, in the Perm region and later to Voronezh.
After Osip Mandelstam’s second arrest and his subsequent death at a transit camp “Vtoraya Rechka” near Vladivostok in 1938, Nadezhda Mandelstam led an almost nomadic way of life, dodging her expected arrest and frequently changing places of residence and temporary jobs. On at least one occasion, in Kalinin, the NKVD (The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs a law enforcement agency of the Soviet Union that was closely associated with the Soviet secret police) came for her the next day after she fled.
As her mission in life, she set to preserve and publish her husband’s poetic heritage. She managed to keep most of it memorized because she did not trust paper. After the death of Stalin, Nadezhda Mandelstam completed her dissertation (1956) and some years after was allowed to return to Moscow (1964).
In her memoirs, Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned, first published in the West, she gives an epic analysis of her life and criticizes the moral and cultural degradation of the Soviet Union of the 1920s and later. The titles of her memoirs are puns, Nadezhda in Russian meaning “hope”.