Barber for the Lubyanka Night Shift, 1930s

Lev’s first cousin Vova Knipper had a friend who was a barber in the proezd Serova near the Lubyanka [during the Soviet Great Terror of the 1930s]. Most of his clients were NKVD officers. When the barber’s shop opened at eight in the morning, NKVD interrogators, in a nervous state with heavy stubble, turned up in either military uniform or civilian clothes. They wanted a shave and a face massage to freshen up after a hard night’s work beating confessions out of their prisoners. They asked for bloodstains to be daubed from their tunics and trousers with eau-de-Cologne. Some were so exhausted that they would fall asleep in the chair, and the barber found it hard to wake them up afterwards. But those who stayed awake talked compulsively about their work. The hairdresser warned Vova about the need to keep his mouth shut at all times. ‘We’re in a trap,’ he warned.

SOURCE: The Mystery of Olga Chekhova: The true story of a family torn apart by revolution and war, by Antony Beevor (Penguin, 2005), p. 148

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