Excerpts from Mikhail Nosyrev’s diary, taken from him during the arrest and search on September 30, 1943.
(1940–September 24, 1941)
Having made a decision to write these fragmentary notes, I did not set out to give a detailed description of my life and doings, as a good few people do in my age, but I aimed at clarifying the essence and minute causes of my way of thinking and my ideology which is unclear not only to people around me, but, at times, to me as well.
Undoubtedly, two great factors directly influenced the development and shaping of my way of thinking: 1) upbringing, or, more precisely, the lack of systematic upbringing, and 2) the times and the political situation and atmosphere, in which I’m spending my youth.
True, the second factor had for me a great deal more significance and influence, than the first one, for one cannot forget, especially in our times, that a personal life depends, first of all, on the arrangement of social life.
The shaping of my outlook proceeded under the immediate influence of surrounding reality and took me into the unreal world that I myself tried to create around me, where I sought a refuge and rest from the surrounding reality.
And so, trying to get away from the reality that I could not get on with and reconcile myself to, I fell behind the previous epoch and did not attach myself to the present one. This had to occur, since I had to break away from the old epoch due to its formed socio-economic conditions, while I have nothing in common with the new epoch in Russia, the epoch of a savage slavery, inhuman oppression, the epoch of an outrageous moral degradation of the people, especially young people. . . .
My ancestors on my father’s side were Orenburg Cossacks. My father Iosif (Josef) Timofeevich Nosyrev was born in 1882 in a Cossack village (stanitsa) Prechistenskaya of Orenburg province. Part of his childhood was spent in a native stanitsa, another part in Orenburg, where he learnt to play violin at a school. Then he moved to Petersburg, where he entered the Conservatory, class of I.P. Nalbandyan. To support himself he had to play at the Buffo theatre. The excessive violin playing became the cause of a partial paralysis of his left hand. After that he was obliged to drop the Conservatory and move to Ufa. In 1914 he married Nadezhda Nikiforovna Chemodurova.
I was born in 1924.
In Ufa father continued to study music. He became a conductor. Our living conditions were very good. Even now, in 1941, I recall, as much as I can, Christmas and Easter holidays, and a rueful smile plays on my lips. . . .
In 1929 father was unexpectedly taken seriously ill. . . .
He died during the night of January 20-21. . . .
Father’s funeral was a very solemn occasion. In Ufa he was a celebrity. I can still remember very clearly and will never forget father’s last journey from home to his last shelter.
I remember clearly the sinister and solemn picture of the bearing of his remains: a white coffin padded with glossy paper, a dark suit, the suit which he wore many times when conducting the orchestra, blue sandals, a small white pillow stuffed with hay, according to his wish.
I remember clearly how I stood at his bedside several minutes before the carrying-out and how mother sat opposite me.
Never in my life will I forget the moment, when from the room next door the sounds of a funeral march reached my ears. Even now, however cool and hard-hearted I have become, I tremble all over and tears fill my eyes.
My father did not believe in God, but he belonged to that type of atheists, who, while being non-believers, never touch upon religious feelings of other people. However, before his death a radical change occurred: he came back to Him and was happy. I remember very well his last conversation with a priest. He confessed, received communion, the burial service was read for him; all this happened late at night. This picture, like many others, stays in my memory. . . .
Ten and a half years passed since my father’s death, but I see him before my eyes as if he were alive. I am writing these lines at a time when every minute my life is in deathly danger, and who knows whether I’ll be able to see that place, that grave in which lies the man, the memory of whom is sacred to me. . . .
I was born on May 28, 1924 at 4 a.m. in Leningrad, although my birth was officially registered in Ufa. Mother was in Leningrad at the time of my coming into the world of God, but as soon as I was born, she and my grandmother went to Ufa.
I often recall the moment, when a fast train was approaching the Moscow railway station, and I, a small boy, was sitting on the suitcases and looking around with curiosity and some fear.
Now I had to be taken to school. It was the end of September, and the schools had already been open a whole month. I was taken to a district educational department. Since I knew how to read and write, I was enrolled in a group for literates. The day came when every person in his own time starts to learn and never stops (either he learns himself, or life teaches him).
I was taken to school. The crowds of children, noise, bustle, shouting stunned me. I was taken to my classroom and…with a sinking heart I stepped over the doorstep looking back through a door glass to see whether my father was gone. The teacher called me to the blackboard and asked if I could read and write. I replied. Then she suggested that I should write my first and last names on the blackboard. I took a piece of chalk and scribbled them. That was how my first-ever exam ended and I took my place at a free desk. I looked around with curiosity. Suddenly, the unexpected bell made me start. The break started. I was frightened when I found myself among a massive crowd of unfamiliar children. I hid in the window corner, got onto the windowsill and stayed there the whole break period. Again the bell went ringing and again it made me start. The corridors became empty. But no matter how hard I tried, I could not recall the way back to the classroom and continued to sit on the windowsill. At last, a boy, sent to look for me, took me to the classroom. On the third day we were let free an hour earlier and I managed to get home on my own. Since then no one ever accompanied me anywhere. At the same time the adults accompanied some of my schoolmates, even in the 8th form.
Starting from the second form I began to learn to play violin at the courses of musical education in the class of Arkadii Alexandrovich Halfan.
Until the 6th form my life proceeded quietly without any considerable changes. Every year I passed to another form, every summer I went to a dacha in the suburbs.
Over the years at the school my violin repertoire consisted of the following works: pieces by Dancla, Zaytz Concerto, Accolai Concerto, the 23rd concerto by Viotti, the 7th concerto by Rode, Icene de Balett by Berio, the 7th concerto by Berio, the 22nd concerto by Viotti, Prelud et Al by Pugnani, Concerto Milleter by Lipinsky, the 9th concerto by Spohr (2 movements), Sonata by Tartini d-moll and a number of small pieces. Here I started to attend chamber music ensembles and an orchestra class (strings group). But when I passed to the 6th form, the question arose of my entering the 10-year school at the Conservatory. I was taken for audition to Prof. I.P. Nalbandyan who strongly criticized my playing, and, I must admit, encouraged me little. The next day I took an exam. Together with my father I came to the Capella (the school was situated there). There were many entrants. I was extremely nervous and pale. Three hours before the exam they checked my musical ear, etc. At last I stepped into the class, where the entrance examination took place. A girl about 14–15 years old was playing a Reading concerto rather clumsily. This gave me some determination and confidence and dispelled the fear. I played Prelud et Al. I was stopped before finishing it, and they let me go. The corridor “fans” complimented me on my performance. I was very agitated and was anxious to learn the result. But I had to be patient and go to Tyarlovo. A day later father brought a positive answer: I was accepted into a 10-year Music school at the Leningrad State Conservatory.
I was to study in the 6 “b” form. On entering the school I was a naive, simple-minded and trustful boy: I was a pupil of Dmitri Andreevich Rumshevich who gave me much, especially with respect to the development and shaping of my musical soul. I played a lot under his supervision: Vitali’s chaconne, Ballad and Polonaise by Vietan, Mendelssohn’s concerto, the 4th concerto by Vietan, the 2nd concerto by Venyavsky, Wagner’s Albumblatt and some other small pieces. I finished school as an external student having the following program: Bach – Sonata I (parts I and II), Saint-Saens – the 3rd concerto (II and III movements), Kochurov – Nocturne, Ernst – Othello. I was enrolled in the class of professor Yu. I. Eidlin, but I was not fated to take his lessons. Here’s the last page of a school diary for 1941: When the exams were over and we were given the marks for the last 2 years, I wrote the “afterword”. Here it is: “This year, contrary to expectations, appeared to be the last year at school. External studies and the war are the two reasons that closed the first period of my life.”
Now, when my memory runs through the past, my opinion about this period in a man’s life changes a little. Leaving school, I wanted to break away from the framework of the suffocating environment as soon as possible, and I do not blame myself for this; but this period, independent of me and of my wishes, left in my life an indelible and I should say a sad and sorrowful trace. I realize clearly that the school failed to give me half of what I wanted to get, and not only wanted but needed to get. But was the school able at all to give me what I wanted and demanded!?
Certainly, not. . . .
Despotism and at the same time force; visible freedom and invisible noose – those were integral factors of school in the period of Bolshevism.
And I, who did not want to dance to this tune, quite naturally made enemies and could not get on with the reality around me.
But at the same time this period left behind a pleasantly sad reminiscence about the time that will never come back, the time when a man gets to know life and the world for the first time. This time will remain a tender and moving recollection of the troubles and emotions that make a man learn life.
And so, stepping onto the road of life, a hard road, where there are so many temptations at every step, the road full of lust, evil and envy, I should always remember that my task is not to turn off the road of Truth, but indefatigably to aspire to Him, always diligently to gain and broaden my knowledge and education and never to spare my strength and abilities for the pursuit to which I dedicate my life and which became sacred to me. . . .
In June (22) the war started. There’s no need to describe its course. Now Leningrad is in a desperate state, the people are dying from hunger.
February 4, 1942
February is the sixth month of the Leningrad siege. The people are dying; the cold and hunger paralyze all life, there are no means of transportation or communication; the people are deprived of the most elementary civilized conveniences: light, water, telephones, gas - all this disappeared into the domain of legend. If you stay for 2 hours in the street, you can come across dozens of solitary dead people and a number of carts and cars filled with corpses. The prices for foodstuffs are fabulous; the people eat all sorts of muck – from joiner's glue jelly to cuts from soft parts of corpses. The people have turned savage, they are driven to complete emaciation and despair…
February 16, 1942
“The Kitchen is a shrine, the flame in the stove is a fire of vestals, the cook is a high priest; he is omnipotent and gracious; he takes away sorrows and lamentations without a trace; he quenches one's thirst and gives love its delights.”
Alas, Jerome was not mistaken.
The intellectual life of the people has stopped; the concern about a piece of bread, about the escape from starvation has replaced all other thoughts and ideas from the minds of the people. Life has become a kind of a nightmare, from which it is impossible to wake up.
The other day I dragged myself to the Conservatory; near Fontanka Street I saw a man lying on the ground. I ran up to him, but I had no strength to lift him up. I looked around: there were only women close by. At last I addressed a passing man and asked for help. We put the poor man on a sledge and asked him where he lived. With a stiffening tongue he explained something, said that he needed some office that appeared to be not far from us. We dragged him there with difficulty. But in the office they did not recognize him, kicked up a row and without giving a man a chance to warm himself, threw us out. I was deeply outraged. What could we do with the man? He could not stand on his feet. Again we put him on the sledge and following the advice of the passers-by we took him to the nearest hospital. I harnessed myself into the sledge and my helper supported him at the back. I was sweating all over, when we pulled the sledge at the hospital gates.
And it was there that for the first time in my life I realized the meaning of the word HORROR.
Having pulled the sledge to the gates, I opened a gate and gave a shout. I was shown the way. I pulled again at the rope, made a few steps… and stopped dead: in front of me there was a heap of corpses, and what corpses!!!
I was well accustomed to horrible sights on the streets of the city, but what I saw at that moment was too horrible for me, in spite of habit and composure. Those were the dead that were thrown away every day from the hospital. Half clad, with open eyes, mouths, with bristling fingers, half-lying, half-upright, thrown into a heap, black and blue from cold – they made me shudder. I can hardly remember now what other feelings apart from horror filled my soul, there were too many feelings, but it was horror that I clearly felt. Yes, that was horror, not fear, not cowardice, not anything else, for the heap of dead bodies could do me no harm, but horror filled my heart. I quickly bent my head, pulled the hat onto my eyebrows and rushed forward pulling the sledge. But I made only a few steps, when I saw one more heap of horrible corpses. I don’t know how I had managed not to see the heaps when I entered the yard. I rushed aside from another heap and pulled the sledge somehow up to the casualty ward, where I had to take the man that we picked up on the road. The attitude of the hospital staff made me furious! Having got nowhere, I laid the sick man on a bench and left the hospital. Again I had to pass the two horrible heaps of corpses that will remain a painful and nightmarish recollection for the rest of my life. Again I pulled my hat onto my eyebrows and trotted along the horrible path, following my helper. We wished each other all the best and went our different ways.
I was looking for an opportunity to ease my state somehow, and I went to the church. It calmed me and put my mind to rights.
From the church I went to see my acquaintances. I must admit that I would not be surprised if my hair had turned white in those few minutes.
When will be an end to all this? All this horror, this nightmare that makes everything go black before one’s eyes and a cold shiver run down one’s spine. How can I be sure that in two-months’ time or even sooner no one will feel horror at the sight of my corpse, as I felt at the sight of those miserable people who died a horrible death. . . ?
April 7, 1942
A month has passed since I opened my notebook last. Virtually nothing has changed in the city. As before, the people are dying from hunger and bombings. But the closeness of spring makes me think about something different, or, to be more precise, new. In my private life there are no essential changes. Endless and tedious (boring) concerts, which are given for the sake of a piece of bread and a plate of soup; studying chemistry, physics and languages – that is all that fills my life. In spite of the fact that I have begun to eat very well, my legs get weaker and weaker, and walking becomes harder and harder. I want very much to come back to strict and regular studies. Approximately with the following distribution of subjects: violin – 5-6 hours a day, piano – 2-2,5 hours, chemistry ad physics – 2-3 hours, literature – an hour or two, languages (German and English) – 2-3 hours. This makes 15 hours!!! If I get up at half past five and go to bed at 11 p.m. (7 hours of sleep), then I get 1 free hour! I won’t have strength for such a timetable, but is quite possible, under the condition of no concerts and no other adventures… I feel sleepy and close this notebook, I want to write down many things, but have no time. . . . Air raids started again. . . . Will I live to see the siege lifted and what will be the end of all this? Did I endure all this in vain or not. . . ?
May 27, 1942
How much would I like to say today about my feelings, troubles, joys and sorrows: tomorrow I’ll be eighteen. 18! It’s not 7, or 12, or even 16. Who am I at 18? They say that a man can never tell the truth about himself. But “alone with his soul” he can truthfully tell how he perceives himself.
I will try to do this; and if I’ll be able to read these notes in 5-7 years at least, I’ll be able to tell without the help of others whether I was judging myself rightly.
. . .rely on my God, he will not leave me and will not allow me, a weakling, to stumble.
I am a believer and will remain as such till my death.
What is ahead? – no one knows. God is Hope. He will not leave me, a sinner, and will show me a way of truth. . . .
August 14, 1942
August – the 12th month of the siege. No changes are foreseen. For more than a year (23/VIII–41 until August, 1942) my nerves have been on edge. At times it seems that there’s no strength to endure.
Vassili Adolfovich Laube
Luisa, Zizilia, Antonina Ivanovna Graier
Sergei Hikolaevich Soloviev
Georgi Germanovich Vorontsov
They died of hunger
during the winter
October 20, 1942
In the Gospel I found three things indispensable to a man’s life: a torch, a crutch and a small path.
Life is a hard thing.
Must find money to buy the Bible (600 rubles) (Got free).
I’ve been working in the operetta theatre for the fourth month.
At times I fall into a complete apathy.
Leningrad is under siege for 14! months already, and there is no end in sight.
October 21, 1942
Will I be able to learn music some day? What awaits me in life?
January 18, 1943
On January 18, 1943 the radio announced the break of the siege of Leningrad.
From August 23, 1941 until January 1943 the siege lasted 1 year, 4 months and 25 days.
The diary belongs to me, it was written by me and was withdrawn from me during the search.