When Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died on March 5, 1953, the entire society of the Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) went into mourning.
However, after the external pain, there were mixed feelings towards the character, under which millions of people perished in purges and famine, and millions more suffered want.
During his almost three decades of rule, Stalin undoubtedly tried to assert his authority and brutally cracked down on dissenting voices.
However, there were protests in the Soviet Union. They were not numerous or in great numbers, but they meant that many did not agree with the totalitarian regime. The second of these was objected to by the three children who disagreed.
The event takes place in Chelyabinsk, an industrial city in the Urals, a mountainous region that separates the European and Asian parts of Russia. There was a tractor factory in the city.
One day in the spring of 1946, three teenagers posted a pamphlet in the center of the city. Neighbors who were trying to buy them watched them wearily.
The children did not have glue, so they used water-soaked bread on paper torn from school bags, on the walls and light bars.
“Hungry, rise to battle!”
A woman reads a queue on a paper. “These are written by a wise man,” he commented.
Children Alexander (known as Shura) Polyakov, Mikhail (Misha) Ulman and Yevgeny (Genya) Gershovich. They were all 13 years old, and Shura Polyakov was the leader of the group.
The Polyakov family was originally from Kharkov, now Ukraine, and with his mother, grandmother, sister, and aunt had gone over to the Urals. Five of them shared a room while the city tried to accommodate war evacuees.
Shura’s father had died in World War II and his mother supported the family by working as a lawyer.
Genya Gershovich also grew up without a father, but for a different reason. He was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), and in 1934 his father was arrested and falsely accused of being part of a clandestine network that planned to overthrow the government.
The man disappeared without a trace.
To keep her two children safe, Genya’s mother moved to Chelyabinsk. Although her husband was an “enemy of the people”, she got the job as head teacher.
Genya’s father was executed before the war, but the family only learned of his death much later.
Misha Ulman, like Genya, was also from Leningrad. But his family was intact, and his parents moved to Chelyabinsk at the beginning of the war to work at a local tractor factory, which produced farms, not agricultural machinery.
In Chelyabinsk, Misha’s family lived in extremely cramped conditions, forced to share a room with a stranger. The room was divided by the clothes and the linen hanging from it.
All three boys went to the same school. Ulman and Gershovich also sat at the same desk in class.
Stalin inspired the rebellion
When they were only 13 years old, children were already reading the works of Marx, Lenin and Stalin himself as part of their school curriculum. From these books they learned that accepting injustice is a mistake.
They also carefully studied the words of “Internationale”, a hymn about the labor movement written in 1870 by a French revolutionary writer, and later by all those who fought against social inequalities.
The song was the national anthem of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1944. The children could not believe that music that would rise up in the masses against social differences was not banned in the Soviet Union.
The children and their families were faced with severe economic difficulties and were living in transition from starvation to food rations after the war.
At the time, it was a popular joke in the Soviet Union, which told of the moment when the leaders of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, meeting at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, discussed what method to use to execute it. to (Nazi leader Adolf) Tituli, when the war was fought.
Churchill, then Prime Minister of Britain, suggested a suspension. Roosevelt, the American president, proposed the electric chair. And Stalin, the leader of the Soviets, believed that it would be most effective to put Soviet food supplies on Hitler. From the other two it is evident that this punishment would be most cruel.
But not everyone in the Soviet Union was forced to survive on meager wages. The three boys had a classmate whose father was a factory manager.
The life of that classmate was completely different from theirs: the driver took him to school, he ate much richer food for lunch and on his birthday the boys could taste sparkling water and Charlie Chaplin movies were projected on the wall.
The house where the director’s family lived was spacious and comfortable, and he did not have to share it with any strangers. It looked like something out of a fairy tale.
The war made everything worse
The living conditions of the workers at the Chelyabinsk plant before the war were harsh: many lived in the basement and pits. At the beginning of the war, the city suffered from an influx of evacuees from the western regions of Russia, which made the situation even worse.
In December 1943, factory management discovered that up to 300 workers in the plant were sleeping on the factory floor, with nowhere to go. some said that they had no winter clothes, others that they had no shoes, and therefore could not leave them there;
Although the people were willing to bear the hardships of the war, when the war was over, their patience failed. The citizens were elated by the defeat of Nazi Germany, but many in Chelyabinsk were fed up with the constant humiliation of living in misery.
Three grown children were heard complaining about damp basements, cracked roofs, a mess made of nettles, they went four years without a bar of soap, and many other problems.
The young man experienced extreme poverty and felt little to lose.
The teenagers were more and more indignant at the injustice they noticed and when the discrepancy between what Soviet propaganda claimed life in a socialist country was like and what they could see with their own eyes.
One day in April 1946, the boys tore a page from their school notebook and wrote:
“Soldiers, workers, look around! The state blames our war problems, but the war is over. Are your conditions better? No! What has the government given you? Nothing! Your children are hungry and yet they tell you happy childhood stories. Comrades, look around you and understand what is really going on.”
At first the children only laid their eggs at night, but after a few days they became bolder and ceased to worry. They also asked their classmates for help.
The dreaded NKVD security service, later the KGB and now the FSB, quickly learned about the situation and soon discovered that anti-government leaflets were being produced by school children.
The beginning of the hunt
The schools have provided evidence in each student’s handbook to identify the culprits. Children from all over Chelyabinsk had to write words like “hair” and “happy childhood”.
Yevgeny Gershovich was the first to be detained. Then Alexander Polyakov and at the end of May 1946 Mikhail Ulman. Their families are shocked and terrified.
The children were followed by interrogation by the security services, who also tried to convince them of Nazi sympathies. They were lying angry: how could they even be religious to Marxism, the Nazis?
Gershovich and Polyakov were tried and convicted in August 1946 for spreading anti-Soviet propaganda. Two were sentenced to three years in juvenile prison.
Later, they remembered that horrible time, being beaten and harassed by other young inmates, imprisoned for criminal offences.
Ulmanus was fortunate: since he had not declined at the time of his arrest at 14, he was completely spared. His parents fled to Leningrad to get away from the Chelyabinsk Security Services.
Gershovich and Polyakov also fared relatively well, being released at the end of 1946 with a suspended sentence.
The age of the children helped them to be punished much more severely.
But it is also possible that the security services and the judges were overwhelmed by the gravity of the young rebels, who, despite living in one of the totalitarian regimes, believed that they could protest against social injustice and force the government to reform the living. the conditions of the workers.
Later, Ulman and Polyakov moved to Israel, where he lives with his wife and where the BBC was able to speak to him.
Ulman later moved to Australia, where he died in 2021.
Yevgeny Gershovich was arrested again in the late 1940s, shortly afterwards expelled from the university, suspected of having anti-Soviet leanings.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was released shortly after Stalin’s death along with millions of other victims of repression. He died in the 2010s.