Sergei Rokovsky was a 66 year old, highly respected doctor that would treat high-ranking Communist officials. Although not believing in religion via Communist beliefs, Sergei was proud of his Jewish heritage and supported the Communist Party and Soviet Russia in its war against Nazi Germany. Relishing in the eventual destruction of the Third Reich, Sergei planned to retire in 1952 but was arrested by NKVD officers during a period where many doctors were also arrested for little reason. Known to the Soviets as the “Doctors’ Plot”, Stalin accused many high-ranking doctors of attempting to assassinate Soviet officials. When Sergei was arrested, he left with the officers quietly and respectfully, fully aware that many of his fellow doctors were also Jews. Ironically, the strong stance against Nazism promoted by the Soviet Union seemed to have little effect here.
Once thrown in a squalid, overcrowded holding cell with no privacy, Sergei was interrogated by NKVD officials who didn’t care about the fragility of his old age. Accused of conspiring with several other “cosmopolitans” (Jews) to kill a leading Communist official, Sergei was kept awake with no sleep for three months during which he was interrogated every day. Evading the questions that would incriminate him, Sergei eventually broke down and signed a document that would provide sufficient “evidence” for the assassination plot. Paraded in front of a show trial to display that the “best citizens could be Enemies of the People” and forced to confess yet again, in which he was taken outside for a “break” and kicked in the shins. Given 20 years in the gulag system, Sergei was also given the title of “Trotskyist cosmopolitan terrorist”.
By the time Sergei was put on a cattle car destined for a gulag, he lost all will to live and the embarrassment shook him to his core. The only way he survived the train ride was when a former patient of his, who was also convicted of a “crime”, recognized who he was and moved him to a spot with fresh air. On arrival at the camp, it was discovered that the same sector that housed Sergei also had many scientists and skilled laborers because of highly secret projects in the works. Placed as head physician of the camp to increase the productivity of the prisoners doing hard labor, Sergei was to report to the president of the NKVD himself Lavrentiy Beria every week. Many of his patients were near death and had to be treated with limited supplies, but Sergei’s actions are believed to have saved quite a few from death.
Daily life in the camp was not as hard for Sergei as it was for other prisoners since his job allowed him access to the most rations (ration system was explained in a previous blog post) and extra food. Heartbroken for the prisoners who only received half rations for doing backbreaking labor, Sergei tried very hard to not play favorites but was bound to when he received extra rations from wounded prisoners. It was also difficult for him to chose who would be able to receive treatment due to the limited number of hospital beds, and those with actual injuries were sometimes forced to wait because of criminal intimidation. One time Sergei was nearly stabbed by an angry criminal who wanted a day off from work in the hospital but was assisted by a hospital worker.
Regardless, Sergei was released in 1958 but died only one year later due to the deadly conditions he experienced in the gulag.
Do Svidaniya, Comrades