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Memento : Issue 26
occupied Manchuria. Appeals in his file graphically describe his treatment: On 22 January 1938, soon after wake- up, I was summoned for interrogation by [name], the assistant to the chief … and was returned to my cell only on 25 January 1938, having spent three and a half days in the interrogation room without food or drink, being beaten mercilessly by [3 people named] … The latter did not even let me out to the toilet. At the end, I barely made it back to my cell. But I confessed nothing as I had enough strength to fight the provocations of the interrogators… From researchers at the Russian human rights organisation Memorial, I learned just how widely the Onikul family’s experience was shared. In all, 48,000 Russians from China were arrested under a special Stalinist order – 31,000 of them executed, the rest sent to labour camps. Russian life in Harbin, 1908–59 The biographies which the Onikuls gave in the course of their NKVD interrogations provided much information about their life The Australian chapter For those of my extended family fortunate enough to reach Australia, the passenger lists, immigration and ASIO files which I obtained through the National Archives of Australia completed the story. Some of these files reveal that the complex geopolitics of Manchuria at the time were quite troublesome for ASIO as they grappled with security clearance issues for Russians from China. A marginal note in the hand of Immigration Minister Sir Alex Downer usefully pointed out: The ASIO evidence seems to relate largely to pro-Russian activities during the war and shortly thereafter. Note the Russians were then our valued allies, the Japs our deadly foes. This part of the ASIO case should be discounted. in China until 1935, as well as snippets on family members who had stayed there. One rich source of material on my family’s life during the Japanese occupation (1932–45) was the collection of files from the Bureau of Russian Emigrés in Manchuria, brought to Khabarovsk by victorious Soviet troops after the Japanese defeat in 1945. Apart from biographies in files on some members of my extended family and scurrilous informants’ reports on others, the collection contains Harbin newspapers and magazines from the period. With the help of researchers from the Harbin Jewish Research Centre at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, I also read the family’s files from the former Harbin Public Security Bureau, held in the Heilongjiang Provincial Archive. Written in both Russian and Chinese, the files contained the detailed biographies that the family had to provide to obtain residence and other permits. The files also gave an insight into the administrative arrangements in Harbin during the Chinese Communist period up to the time we departed for Australia in 1959. (opposite page) Abram Onikul (1907–41), one of Gita’s brothers. ‘Treasure the copy, but don’t forget the original’ he wrote on the back of this photo which he sent to Gita and her husband Motya from Mongolia in 1927. (far left) Photo of Abram taken in prison, 1938. (left) Motya and Gita Zaretsky, Mara’s grandparents (left), Inna Zaretsky, Mara’s mother (centre), with Girsh and Chesna Onikul, Mara’s great–grandparents (right), Harbin, 1936. (below) Mara Moustafine, author of Secrets and Spies. ' May 2004 MEMENTO 13