House on the Embankment: MP Kirill Has Penthouse where OGPU spied on Citizens

Ecce Patriarcha Vestra.

(“The Day”- Kiev) The House on the Embankment is one of the major symbols of the 1930s, the time when the regime was exterminating the party and industry elite which lived in this residential complex on the Moskva River’s Bersenevskaya Embankment. It is no mere chance that the main overseer of the construction of what was officially called Government Building was Genrikh Yagoda, deputy chief (in fact the chief) of the OGPU secret police. The No. 11 entrance to the building leads to no apartments or elevators. Supposedly, this was the place from where secret policemen eavesdropped on residents of the apartments in other stairwells or there were perhaps some secret premises behind the wall. Apart from this section, the building also had a number of secret address apartments. The operatives worked in the guise of superintendents, doormen, and elevator operators, receiving in their apartments their informers or hiding some special lodgers, such as, for example, Dieter Gerhardt, a Soviet intelligence agent in South America. In the years of the 1937-38 Great Terror, more than 800 out of 2,000 residents, often including women and children, were repressed. In those years the building was dubbed “trap for the Bolsheviks” and “pretrial detention house.” In 1937-53 the apartments would change their occupiers from five to almost twenty times.

A Listening Room in the KGB Museum, Vilnius, where
citizens were spied on. Would you choose this for your house? 

Due to censorial restrictions, Yury Trifonov, himself a dweller in this building in his childhood, could not write about repressions. He mentions them vaguely and metaphorically. “An enormous grey mass hung over the little street. In the mornings it blocked the sun, and in the evenings you could hear radio voices and gramophone music from above. Over there, on the celestial floors, there seemed to be a life entirely different to the drab one down below,” Trifonov wrote in the novella The House on the Embankment. The house tends to symbolize the darkness that hung over the life of every Soviet citizen, even though everything looked cheerful from the outside. For in what other country could an individual breathe so freely with frosty air in the Kolyma prison camps or during the construction of the Vorkuta tundra railroad?

There are legends associated with this house, including those about the shadows of the unlawfully repressed, which haunt their apartments, as well as the shadows of the butchers who choose their prey. These legends are not far from the truth. Taking advantage of having keys to all the apartments, Lavrentiy Beria’s deputy Bogdan Kobulov used to penetrate the apartments of those whom the Black Maria was to carry away later at night. Sort of a herald of death…

It is in this building that Patriarch Kirill acquired an apartment. Now he wants to enlarge his real estate. The shadows of the past do not embarrass him.