One day in 1928, they arrested Oleg Volkov and brought him in a horse-drawn cart to the Lubyanka, headquarters of the Soviet secret police. It was the beginning of a 27-year odyssey through the gulag. The white-bearded writer returned to the square in front of what is still the KGB building on Tuesday _ to help unveil a simple stone memorial inscribed "To the memory of the millions of victims of the totalitarian regime."
"I never thought I'd live to see a time when I could not only tell the truth about what happened, but see a monument to those who will never return," the 90-year-old Volkov said.
But he reminded an audience of several thousand survivors of the prison camps, many holding candles and weeping, that the process of repentance remains incomplete.
He pointed to the towering statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, first chief of the secret police. The statue, in the middle of what is still called Dzerzhinsky Square, must come down, he said.
"Don't forget the lessons of the past," he said. "Don't forget the victims of the terror."
The gray stone for the new memorial was brought to Moscow from a camp in the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea. The camp opened in 1920 in what had been a monastery.
Solovetsky is seen by many historians as the birthplace of the system of state terror that later, under Josef Stalin, swallowed tens of millions of innocent lives. Volkov is one of the few living veterans of Solovetsky.
The modest memorial is the first monument in Moscow to the victims of what several speakers called "communist terror." It is a hard-won victory against the powerful forces in Soviet society who resist the full exhumation of the crimes of Stalinism and examination of their relation to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.
The former prisoners, their relatives and activists of the memorial society, which organized the event, gathered at midafternoon at the north end of Lubyanka Street. Many held up signs identifying their camps or wore their prisoner numbers on their coats.
The crowd then walked slowly the half-mile to Dzerzhinsky Square. The only sounds were footsteps and a woman's recorded voice, reading from a seemingly endless list of the dead: "Ivan Dmitrievich Leskov, carpenter, shot. Alexander Pavlovich Smirnov, collective farm worker, shot. Lyudmila Alexandrovna Berogaya, engineer, shot. . . ."
The survivors' tales were horrific. Irina I. Kalina, 62, an artist, told how her diplomat father was arrested in 1938, denounced by his driver and executed. Her mother was arrested the same year.
She lived with relatives before coming to Moscow and entering an art institute. But in 1949 she was dismissed from the institute and arrested: As the daughter of arrestees, she herself was suspect.
She, too, was brought to the Lubyanka, then transferred to Lefortovo prison, where she awaited trial in a frigid stone cell, stripped to her underwear and fed every third day. She spent five years in the camps, enduring sexual molestation, near starvation and crushing labor before Stalin's death eventually led to her release.
"You must hear this, people," Kalina said to a small crowd that gathered around her. "I tell you, you are fortunate that you escaped this. If Stalin hadn't died, all these people you see here today would be dead."