“I would like to recall them all by name,
but they’ve taken the list, there’s no way to find out”
Anna Akhmatova wrote Requiem, from which this famous couplet is taken, over almost thirty years (1935-1961). In Russia the poem could not be published in full until 1987.
Nikolai Gumilyov, Anna Akhmatova and their son Lev (1915)
Her first husband, fellow poet Nikolai Gumilyov, was shot on trumped-up charges in 1921 [47-01]. Their son Lev was twice arrested and sent to the camps, during the Great Terror and again in 1949. Her third husband Nikolai Punin died in August 1953 [11-23], a few months after Stalin, in the hospital of a labour camp complex in northwest Russia.
As she was well aware, Akhmatova was giving voice to millions who suffered a similar ordeal. When she died in 1966 Khrushchev’s brief and ambivalent “Thaw” had come to an end. For the next twenty years there would be silence about the crimes of the 1920s-1950s; any discovered remains were hastily reburied or moved elsewhere [42-08]. Not until the late 1980s did the rehabilitation of the “victims of political repression” under Stalin (and Lenin) resume.