Russia lagged far behind Western Europe in implementing reforms. As each generation of protesters and reformers was repressed, dissent turned more and more radical out of desperation. Marie Sukloff joined an organization which believed that leaders who oppressed people had to be assassinated. The target on this particular occasion was a governor notorious for leading pogroms (murderous raids of theft and extermination) against Jews. Her vivid account of her own participation in this event brings to life the kind of person who was going to launch the Russian Revolution in 1917.
What evidence is there that Sukloff was not just a ruthless, bloodthirsty terrorist?
It was New-Year’s eve. I sat near the window and looked at the snow-covered road. There was only one thought in my mind: he must die. All doubts had disappeared. I knew, I felt that it was going to happen.
At midnight I carefully removed the tube from the bomb, dried the powder, and reloaded the bomb. I put the four-pound tin box in a fine hand-bag specially bought for the occasion, and again read over the list of the peasants murdered by the governor. I set everything in order, wrote a letter, and left money for the landlady. Then I went to bed.
“I must sleep,” I repeated to myself, and I actually fell asleep.
A knock at the door roused me. I opened my eyes, and the consciousness of what was going to happen on that day filled my soul. My heart began to beat faster and faster. There was another knock at the door. I slipped on a morning gown, and looked out of the window. A group of masked children stood at the door. I understood that they must have come to congratulate me, and, according to custom, throw millet-seeds all over the house. (1) For this they get a few kopecks.
I admitted them, and in feverish haste began to hand to them anything I could lay my hands on. An uncontrollable desire to remain a little longer with these innocent children seized me, and I begged them to take off their masks and have tea with me. . . .
The samovar was steaming merrily on the table, the children were laughing noisily, the sun shone brightly in my window. For a minute I forgot what was going to happen in a few hours. Suddenly a Cossack galloped past, followed by a carriage. I recognized the carriage. The children continued to laugh, but I no longer heard them.
“Go, go children! It Is time!” I exclaimed. “But first let us bid good-bye.”
They looked at me in surprise. Their cheerful little faces clouded with regret, and their thin, unwashed hands extended to me.
“Don’t forget me, children” I said.
They made the sign of the cross, wished me a happy New-Year, and quietly went away. I dressed hastily, took my hand-bag, and went into the street.
The day was bright and cold, the sky cloudless. The street was almost deserted, with only now and then an occasional passer-by hurrying to church. Four blocks from my house was a bridge on which a guard stood on fixed post. Holding the bag in my hand, I passed him, and he bowed low and wished me a happy New Year. Soon, however, I came back, and began to walk up and down not far from my house. A few minutes later I saw from afar Comrade Nicholai walking with slow and measured steps toward me. In his hand he held a box tied with a red ribbon: that was a bomb. He crossed the bridge, and stopped about seventy or eighty feet from me. I knew then that he would throw the bomb from there. It was our understanding that he would throw the bomb from where he stopped. I continued to walk back and forth in the direction of the governor’s house. Comrade Nicholai overtook me, and whispered while passing:
“I saw him. Remember, keep farther away from me, lest an accident should happen to your bomb when mine explodes.”
“All right,” I whispered in reply.
“Good-by!” said Nicholai, and quickly went to his former place.
I followed him with my eyes, hardly moving. The street still remained deserted. Suddenly a mounted Cossack appeared, and behind him a carriage. Comrade Nicholai immediately stepped down from the curb. At that moment the carriage approached him.
He raised his hand, and threw the bomb under the carriage. The bomb fell softly on the snow and did not explode. A police officer who was riding behind the governor sprang at Nicholai, and I heard the report of a pistol. The carriage stopped for an instant; but evidently taking in the situation, the coachman began to whip the horses, and drove at full gallop straight in my direction. I stepped into the middle of the road, and with all my might hurled the bomb against the carriage window. A terrific force instantly stunned me. I felt that I was lifted into the air.
When I regained consciousness and opened my eyes there was nobody around. I lay on the road amid a heap of debris. Blood was streaming down my face and hands. I tried to lift my head and lost consciousness. . . .
[The governor died; Marie was imprisoned.]
Translated by Gregory Yarros (1914)
(1) A New Year’s custom that was supposed to bring good luck.
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