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Full text of "The Gulag Archipelago in three volumes"

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Also by Aleksandr l Solzhenitsyn 

The Gulag Archipelago IH-IV 

The Gulag Archipelago I— II 

Prussian Nights 

Warning to the West 

Lenin in Zurich 

Letter to the Soviet Leaders 

Candle in the Wind 

The Nobel Lecture on Literature 

August 1914 

A Lenten Letter to Pimen, Patriarch of All Russia 

Stories and Prose Poems 

The Love Girl and the Innocent 

The Cancer Ward 

The First Circle 

For the Good of the Cause 

We Neva* Make Mistakes 

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn 




An Experiment in Literary Investigation 


Translated from the Russian by Harry Willetts 



Harper & Row, Publishers 

New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London 


The translator wishes to express his warmest gratitude to Alexis 
Klimoff of Vassar College, who read the translation with minute 
care and whose suggestions were invariably helpful and frequently 


Preface to the English Translation xi 

part V Katorga 

1. The Doomed 7 

2. The First Whiff of Revolution 37 

3. Chains, Chains 56 

4. Why Did We Stand For It? 78 

5. Poetry Under a Tombstone, 

Truth Under a Stone 98 

6. The Committed Escaper 125 

7. The White Kitten 

(Georgi Tenno 9 s Tale) 154 

8. Escapes — Morale and Mechanics 193 

9. The Kids with Tommy Guns 219 

10. Behind the Wire the Ground 

Is Burning 228 

1 1. Tearing at the Chains 249 

12. The Forty Days of Kengir 285 



part VI Exile 

1. Exile in the First Years of Freedom 335 

2. The Peasant Plague 350 

3. The Ranks of Exile Thicken 369 

4. Nations in Exile 385 

5. End of Sentence 406 

6. The Good Life in Exile 423 

7. Zeks at Liberty 445 

part VII Stalin Is No More 

1. Looking Back on It All 471 

2. Rulers Change, the Archipelago Remains 484 

3. The Law Today 506 

Afterword 526 

P.P.S. 528 

Notes 530 

Glossary 538 

Index 547 

A section of photographs follows page 174 L 

Preface to the English 

To those readers who have found the moral strength to over- 
come the darkness and suffering of the first two volumes, the third 
volume will disclose a space of freedom and struggle. The secret 
of this struggle is kept by the Soviet regime even more zealously 
than that of the torments and annihilation it inflicted upon mil- 
lions of its victims. More than anything else, the Communist 
regime fears the revelation of the fight which is conducted against 
it with a spiritual force unheard of and unknown to many coun- 
tries in many periods of their history. The fighters’ spiritual 
strength rises to the greatest height and to a supreme degree of 
tension when their situation is most helpless and the state system 
most ruthlessly destructive. 

The Communist regime has not been overthrown in sixty years, 
not because there has not been any struggle against it from inside, 
not because people docilely surrendered to it, but because it is 
inhumanly strong, in a way as yet unimaginable to the West. 

In the world of concentration camps, corrupt as everything 
within the Soviet system, the struggle began (alas, it could not 
begin otherwise) by terrorist actions. Terrorism is a condemnable 
tool, but in this case it was generated by forty years of unprece- 
dented Soviet state terrorism, and this is a striking instance of evil 
generating evil. It shows that when evil assumes inhuman dimen- 
sions, it ends up by forcing people to use evil ways even to escape 
it. However, the concentration camp terrorism of the fifties, out 
of which heroic uprisings were bom later on, was essentially differ- 
ent from the “left-wing” revolutionary terrorism which is shaking 
the Western world in our days, in that young Western terrorists. 



saturated with boundless freedom, play with innocent people’s 
lives and kill innocent people for the sake of their unclear purposes 
or in order to gain material advantages. Soviet camp terrorists in 
the fifties killed proved traitors and informers in defense of their 
right to breathe. 

However, there is no kind of terrorism that can be considered 
a pride of die twentieth century. On the contrary, terrorism has 
made it into one of the most shameful centuries of human history. 
And there is no guarantee that the darkest abyss of terrorism 
already lies behind us. 




“We shall turn the Siberia of katorga, Siberia in shackles, 
into a Soviet, socialist Siberia.” 



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if : ^S 

j fJ' - c ■. 

Chapter 1 

The Doomed 

Revolution is often rash in its generosity. It is in such a hurry 
to disown so much. Take the word katorga, * for instance. Now, 
katorga is a good word, a word with some weight in it, nothing 
like the runtish abortion DOPR or the pipsqueak ITL.* Katorga 
descends from the judicial bench, like the blade of a guillotine, 
stops short of beheading the prisoner but breaks his spine, shatters 
all hope there and then in the courtroom. The word katorzhane 
holds such terror that other prisoners think to themselves: “These 
must be the real cutthroats!” (It is a cowardly but comfortable 
human failing to see yourself as not the worst of men, nor in the 
worst position. Katorzhane wear numbers! They are obviously 
beyond redemption! Nobody would pin a number on you or me! 

. . . They will, though — you’ll see!) 

Stalin was very fond of old words; he never forgot that they can 
cement a state together for centuries. It was not to meet some 
proletarian need that he grafted on again words too hastily lopped 
off: “officer,” “general,” “director,” “supreme.”* And twenty-six 
years after the February Revolution had abolished “ katorga, ” 
Stalin reintroduced it. This was in April, 1943, when he began to 
feel that he was no longer sliding downhill. For the home front 
the first fruits of the people’s victory at Stalingrad were the decree * 
on the militarization of the railroads (providing for trial of women 
and little boys by court-martial) and, on the following day (April 
17), the decree introducing the katorga and the gallows. (The 
gallows is another fine old institution, much superior to a short 

•See Notes, page 530. 



sharp pistol shot: it makes death a leisurely process, which can be 
exhibited in detail to a large crowd of people.) Each subsequent 
victory drove fresh contingents of the doomed into katorga or to 
the gallows — first from the Kuban and the Don, then from the 
left-bank Ukraine and the Kursk, Orel, and Smolensk regions. On 
the heels of the army came the tribunals, publicly hanging some 
people on the spot, dispatching others to the newly created 
katorga forced-labor camps. 

The first of them, of course, was Mine No. 17 at Vorkuta (those 
at Norilsk and Dzhezkazgan came soon after). Little attempt was 
made to conceal their purpose: the katorzhane were to be done to 
death. These were, undisguisedly, murder camps: but in the Gulag 
tradition murder was protracted, so that the doomed would suffer 
longer and put a little work in before they died. 

They were housed in “tents,” seven meters by twenty, of the 
kind common in the north. Surrounded with boards and sprinkled 
with sawdust, the tent became a sort of flimsy hut. It was meant 
to hold eighty people, if they were on bunk beds, or one hundred 
on sleeping platforms. But katorzhane were put into than two 
hundred at a time. 

Yet there was no reduction of average living space— just a 
rational utilization of accommodation. The katorzhane were put 
on a twelve-hour working day with two shifts, and no rest days, 
so that there were always one hundred at work and one hundred 
in the hut. 

At work they were cordoned off by guards with dogs, beaten 
whenever anybody felt like it, urged on to greater efforts by 
Tommy guns. On their way back to the living area their ranks 
might be raked with Tommy-gun fire for no good reason, and the 
soldiers would not have to answer for the casualties. Even at a 
distance a column of exhausted katorzhane was easily identified 
— no ordinary prisoners dragged themselves so hopelessly, so 
painfully along. 

Their twelve working hours were measured out in full to the last 
tedious minute. 

Those quarrying stone for roadmaking in the polar blizzards of 
Norilsk were allowed ten minutes for a warm-up once in the 
course of a twelve-hour shift. And then their twelve-hour rest was 
wasted in the silliest way imaginable. Part of these twelve hours 
went into moving them from one camp area to another, parading 
them, searching them. Once in the living area, they were immedi- 

The Doomed | 9 

ately taken into a “tent” which was never ventilated — a window- 
less hut — and locked in. In winter a foul sour stench hung so 
heavy in the damp air that no one unused to it could endure it for 
two minutes. The living area was even less accessible to the kator- 
zhane than the camp work area. They were never allowed to go 
to the latrine, nor to the mess hut, nor to the Medical Section. All 
their needs were served by the latrine bucket and the feeding 
hatch. Such was Stalin’s katorga as it took shape in 1943-1944: 
a combination of all that was worst in the camps with all that was 
worst in the prisons. 1 

Their twelve hours of rest also included inspections, morn- 
ing and evening — no mere counting of heads, as with ordinary 
zeks,* but a full and formal roll call at which each of a hun- 
dred katorzhane twice in every twenty-four hours had to reel 
off smartly his number, his abhorrent surname, forename, and 
patronymic, where and in what year he was bom, under which 
article of the Criminal Code he was convicted and by whom, 
the length of his sentence and when it would expire: while the 
other ninety-nine, twice daily, listened to all this and suffered 
torments. Then again, food was distributed twice in the course 
of these twelve hours: mess tins were passed through the feed- 
ing hatch, and through the feeding hatch they were collected 
again. No katorzhanin was permitted to work in the kitchens, 
nor to take around the food pails. All the serving was done by 
the thieves — and the more brazenly, the more ruthlessly they 
cheated the accursed katorzhane, the better they lived them- 
selves and the more the camp bosses liked it; as always when 
the 58’s (politicals) were footing the bill, the interests of the 
NKVD and of the thieves coincided. 

According to the camp records, which were not meant to pre- 
serve for history the fact that political prisoners were also starved 
to death, they were entitled to supplementary “miner’s rations” 
and “bonus dishes,” which were miserable enough even before 
three lots of thieves got at them. This was another lengthy proce- 
dure conducted through the feeding hatch — names were called 

1. We have Chekhov’s word for it that the Tsarist katorga was much less inventive. The 
katorzhane in the jail at Aleksandrovskaya (Sakhalin) could not only go out into the yard 
or to the latrine at all hours of the day and night (latrine buckets were not in use there 
at all), but at any time during the day could go into the town! Stalin, then, was the first 
to understand the word katorga in its original sense— a galley in which the rowers are 
shackled to their oars. 


out one by one, and dishes exchanged for coupons. And when at 
last you were about to collapse onto the sleeping platform and fall 
asleep, the hatch would drop again, once again names were called, 
and they would start reissuing the same coupons for use the next 
day. (Ordinary zeks had none of this bother with coupons — the 
foreman took charge of them and handed them in to the kitchen.) 

So that out of twelve leisure hours in the cell, barely four 
remained for undisturbed sleep. 

Then again, katorzhane were of course paid no money, nor had 
they any right to receive parcels or letters (the memory of their 
former freedom must fade in their muddled, dully aching heads, 
till there was nothing left in the inscrutable polar night but work 
and barracks). 

The katorzhane responded nicely to this treatment and quickly 

The first alphabet at Vorkuta — twenty-eight letters,* with num- 
bers from 1 to 1000 attached to each of them — the first 28,000 
prisoners in Vorkuta all passed under the earth within a year. 

We can only be surprised that it was not in a single month. 2 

A train was sent to Cobalt Mine No. 25 at Norilsk to pick up 
ore, and some katorzhane lay down in front of the locomotive to 
end it all quickly. A couple of dozen prisoners fled into the tundra 
in desperation. They were located by planes, shot, and their bodies 
stacked where the men lined up for work assignment would see 

At No. 2 Mine, Vorkuta, there was a Women’s Camp Division. 
The women wore numbers on their backs and on their head 
scarves. They were employed on all underground jobs, and — yes 
— they even overfulfilled the plan! . . . 3 

But I can already hear angry cries from my compatriots and 
contemporaries. Stop! Who are these people of whom you dare to 
speak? Yes! They were there to be destroyed — and rightly so! 
Why, these were traitors, Polizei,* burgomasters! They got what 
they asked for! Surely you are not sorry for them? (If you are, of 

2. When Chekhov was there, the whole convict population of Sakhalin was — how many 
would you think? — 5,905. Six letters of the alphabet would have been enough for all of 
them. Ekibastuz as we knew it was roughly as big, and Spassk very much bigger. The name 
Sakhalin strikes terror, yet it was really just one Camp Division! In Steplag alone there were 
twelve complexes as big as that of Sakhalin, and there were ten camps like Steplag. You 
can calculate how many Sakhalins we had. 

3. On Sakhalin there was no hard labor for women (Chekhov). 

The Doomed | 1 1 

course, further criticism is outside the competence of literature, 
and must be left to the Organs. *) And the women there were 
German bedstraw, I hear women ’s voices crying. (Am I exaggerat- 
ing? It was our women who called other women “German bed- 
straw,” wasn't it?) 

I could most easily answer in what is now the conventional 
fashion — by denouncing the cult. I could talk about a few untypi- 
cal cases of people sent to katorga. (The three Komsomol girl 
volunteers, for instance, who went up in a fighter bomber but were 
afraid to drop their bombs on the target, jettisoned them in open 
ccjuntry, returned to base safely and reported that they had carried 
out their mission. Later on, her Komsomol conscience began 
troubling one of them, and she told the Komsomol organizer of 
her air squadron, also a girl, who of course went straight to the 
Special Section. The three girls collected twenty years of katorga 
each.) I could cry shame: to think that honest Soviet people like 
these were punished like criminals at the despot Stalin’s whim! 
And I could wax indignant not so much at Stalin's high-handed- 
ness as about the fateful errors in the treatment of Komsomols and 
Communists, now happily corrected. 

It would, however, be improper not to examine the question in 

First, a few words about our women, who, as everybody knows, 
are now emancipated. Not from working twice as hard, it's true, 
but from religious marriage, from the yoke of social contempt, and 
from cruel mothers-in-law. Just think, thought have we not 
wished upon them something worse than Kabanikha* if women 
who behave as though their bodies and their personal feelings are 
indeed their own are to be condemned as criminals and traitors? 
Did not the whole of world literature (before Stalin) rapturously 
proclaim that love could not be contained by national boundaries? 
By the will of generals and diplomats? But once again we have 
adopted Stalin's yardstick: except as decreed by the Supreme So- 
viet, thou shalt not mate! Your body is, first and foremost, the 
property of the Fatherland. 

Before we go any further, how old were these women when they 
closed with the enemy in bed instead of in battle? Certainly under 
thirty, and often no more than twenty-five. Which means that 
from their first childhood impression onward they had been edu- 
cated after the October Revolution, been brought up in Soviet 


schools and on Soviet ideology! So that our anger was for the work 
of our own hands? Some of these girls had taken to heart what we 
had tirelessly dinned into them for fifteen years on end — that there 
is no such thing as one's own country, that the Fatherland is a 
reactionary fiction. Others had grown a little bored with our 
puritanical Lenten fare of meetings, conferences, and demonstra- 
tions, of films without kisses and dancing at arm's length. Yet 
others wfere won by politeness, by gallantry, by male attention to 
the niceties of dress and appearance and to the ritual of courtship, 
in which no one had trained the young men of our Five-Year Plan 
epoch, or the officers of Frunze's army. Others again were simply 
hungry — yes, hungry in the most primitive sense: they had noth- 
ing to put in their bellies. And perhaps there was a fifth group, 
who saw no other way of saving themselves and their relatives, of 
avoiding separation from their families. 

In the town of Starodub, in Bryansk Province, where I arrived 
hot on the heels of the retreating enemy, I was told that a Hun- 
garian garrison had been stationed there for a long time, to protect 
the town from partisan raids. Orders came transferring them else- 
where, and dozens of local women, abandoning all shame, went 
to the station and wept as they said goodbye to the occupying 
troops — wept more loudly, added a sarcastic shoemaker, than 
“when they had seen their own husbands off to the war.” 

The military tribunal reached Starodub some days later. It 
would hardly fail to act on information received. It doubtless sent 
some of the weeping women of Starodub to Mine No. 2 at Vor- 

But who is really to blame for all this? Who? I ask you. Those 
women? Or — fellow countrymen, contemporaries — we ourselves, 
all of us? What was it in us that made the occupying troops much 
more attractive to our women? Was this not one of the innumera- 
ble penalties which we are continually paying, and will be paying 
for a long time yet, for the path we so hastily chose and have so 
stumblingly followed, with never a look back at our losses, never 
a cautious look ahead? 

Perhaps all these women and girls deserved moral censure 
(though they, too, should have been given a hearing), perhaps they 
deserved searing ridicule — but to be sent to katorgaf to the polar 
death house? 

“Well, it was Stalin who sent them there! And Beria!” 

I’m sorry, but it wasn’t! Those who sent them there, kept them 

The Doomed | 13 

there, did them to death, now sit with other pensioners on social 
service councils, looking out for any lowering of moral standards. 
Ancl the rest of us? We hear the words “German bedstraw” and 
nodi in agreement. The fact that to this day we consider all these 
women guilty is much more dangerous for us than that they were 
once inside. 

“All right, then, but the men at least were in for good reasons? 
They were traitors to their country, and to their class.” 

Here, too, we could prevaricate. We might recall (it would be 
quite true) that the worst criminals did not of course sit still and 
wait for our tribunals and the gallows. They made for the West 
as fast as they could, and many of them got away. While our 
punitive organs reached their target figures by including people 
innocent as lambs (denunciations by neighbors were a great help 
here). So-and-so had Germans billeted in his apartment — what 
made them take a liking to him? Somebody else carried hay for 
the! Germans on his sledge — a straightforward case of collabora- 
tion with the enemy. 4 

We could then play the thing down, put all the blame on the 
Stalin cult again: there were excesses, now they have been cor- 
rected. All quite normal. 

But since we have begun, let us go on. 

What about the schoolteachers? Those whom our army in its 
panicky recoil abandoned with their schools, and pupils, for a 
year. For two years, or even for three. The quartermasters had 
been stupid, the generals no good — so what must the teachers do 
now? Teach their children or not teach them? And what were the 
kids to do — not kids of fifteen, who could earn a wage, or join the 
partisans, but the little kids? Learn their lessons, or live like sheep 
for two or three years to atone for the Supreme Commander’s 
mistakes? If daddy doesn’t give you a cap you let your ears freeze 
— is that it? 

For some reason no such question ever arose either in Denmark 
or in Norway or in Belgium or in France. In those countries it was 
not felt that a people placed under German rule by its own foolish 
government or by force of overwhelming circumstances must 
thereupon stop living altogether. In those countries schools went 
on working, as did railways and local government. 

4. To be fair, we should not forget that from 1946 such people were sometimes regraded 
and their twenty years of katorga commuted to ten years of corrective labor. 


Somebody’s brains (theirs, of course!) are 180 degrees out of 
true. Because in our country teachers received anonymous letters 
from the partisans: “Don’t dare teach! You will be made to pay 
for it!” Working on the railways also became collaboration with 
the enemy. As for participation in local administration — that was 
treason, unprecedented in its enormity. 

Everybody knows that a child who once drops out of school 
may never return to it. Just because the greatest strategic genius 
of all times and all nations had made a blooper, was the grass to 
wither till he righted it or could it keep growing? Should children 
be taught in the meantime, or shouldn’t they? 

Of course, a price would have to be paid. Pictures of the big 
mustache would have to be taken out of school, and pictures of 
the little mustache perhaps brought in. The children would gather 
round the tree at Christmas instead of New Year’s, and at this 
ceremony (as also on some imperial anniversary substituted for 
that of the October Revolution) the headmaster would have to 
deliver a speech in praise of the splendid new life, however bad 
things really were. But similar speeches had been made in the past 
— and life had been just as bad then. 

Or rather, you had to be more of a hypocrite before, had to tell 
the children many more lies — because the lies had had time to 
mature, and to permeate the syllabus in versions painstakingly 
elaborated by experts on teaching technique and by school inspec- 
tors. In every lesson, whether it was pertinent or not, whether you 
were studying the anatomy of worms or the use of conjunctions 
in complex sentences, you were required to take a kick at God 
(even if you yourself believed in Him); you could not omit singing 
the praises of our boundless freedom (even if you had lain awake 
expecting a knock in the night); whether you were reading Tur- 
genev to the class or tracing the course of the Dnieper with your 
ruler, you had to anathematize the poverty-stricken past and 
hymn our present plenty (though long before the war you and the 
children had watched whole villages dying of hunger, and in the 
towns a child’s ration had been 300 grams). 

None of this was considered a sin against the truth, against the 
soul of the child, or against the Holy Ghosts 

Whereas now, under the temporary and still unsettled occupa- 
tion regime, far fewer lies had to be told— but they stood the old 
ones on their heads, that was the trouble! So it was that the voice 
of the Fatherland, and the pencil of the underground Party Com- 

The Doomed | 15 

mittee, forbade you to teach children their native language, geog- 
raphy, arithmetic, and science. Twenty years of katorga for work 
of that sort! 

Fellow countrymen, nod your heads in agreement! There they 
go, guards with dogs alongside, marching to the barracks with 
their night pails. Stone them — they taught your children. 

But my fellow countrymen (particularly former members of 
specially privileged government departments, retired on pension 
at forty-five) advance on me with raised fists: Who is it that I am 
defending? Those who served the Germans as burgomasters? As 
village headmen? As Polizei? As interpreters? All kinds of filth 
and scum? 

Well, let us go a little deeper. We have done far too much 
damage by looking at people as entries in a table. Whether we like 
it or not, the future will force us to reflect on the reasons for their 

When they started playing and singing “Let Noble Rage” — 
what spine did not tingle? Our natural patriotism, long banned, 
hojwled down, under fire, anathematized, was suddenly permitted, 
encouraged, praised as sacred — what Russian heart did not leap 
up, swell with grateful longing for unity. How could we, with our 
natural magnanimity, help forgiving in spite of everything the 
native butchers as the foreign butchers drew near? Later, the need 
to drown half-conscious misgivings about our impulsive generos- 
ity made us all the more unanimous and violent in cursing the 
traitors — people plainly worse than ourselves, people incapable of 

Russia has stood for eleven centuries, known many foes, waged 
many wars. But — have there been many traitors in Russia? Did 
traitors ever leave the country in crowds? I think not. I do not 
think that even their foes ever accused the Russians of being 
traitors, turncoats, renegades, though they lived under a regime 
inimical to ordinary working people. 

Then came the most righteous war in our history, to a country 
with a supremely just social order — and tens and hundreds of 
thousands of our people stood revealed as traitors. 

Where did they all come from? And why? 

Perhaps the unextinguished embers of the Civil War had flared 
up again? Perhaps these were Whites who had not escaped exter- 
mination? No! I have mentioned before that many White Emigres 
(including the thrice-accursed Denikin) took sides with the Soviet 


Union and against Hitler. They had freedom of choice — and that 
is what they chose. 3 

These tens and hundreds of thousands — Polizei and execution- 
ers, headmen and interpreters — were all ordinary Soviet citizens. 
And there were many young people among them, who had grown 
up since the Revolution. 

What made them do it? . . . What sort of people were they? 

For the most part, people who had fallen, themselves and their 
families, under die caterpillar tracks of the twenties and thirties. 
People who had lost parents, relatives, loved ones in the turbid 
streams of our sewage system. Or who themselves had time and 
again sunk and struggled to the surface in camps and places of 
banishment. People who knew well enough what it was to stand 
with feet numb and frostbitten in the queue at the parcels window. 
People who in those cruel decades had found themselves severed, 
brutally cut off from the most precious thing on earth, the land 
itself— though it had been promised to them, incidentally, by the 
great Decree of 1917, and though they had been called upon to 
shed their blood for it in the Civil War. (Quite another matter are 
the country residences bought and bequeathed by Soviet officers, 
the fenced-in manorial domains outside Moscow: that's ours, so 
it's all right) Then some people had been seized for snipping ears 
of wheat or rye. And some deprived of the right to live where they 
wished. Or the right to follow a long-practiced and well-loved 
trade (no one now remembers how fanatically we persecuted 

All such people are spoken of nowadays (especially by profes- 
sional agitators and the proletarian vigilantes of Oktyabr ♦) with 
a contemptuous compression of the Ups: “people with a grudge 
against the Soviet state,” “formerly repressed persons,” “sons of 
the former kulak class,” “people secretly harboring black resent- 
ment of the Soviet power.” 

One says it— and another nods his head. As though it explained 
anything. As though the people's state had the right to offend its 
citizens. As though this were the essential defect, the root of the 
evil: “people with a grudge,” “secretly resentful”. . . 

And no one cries out: How can you! Damn your insolence! Do 

3. They had not sipped with ns the bitter cup of the thirties, and from a distance, from 
Europe, it was easy for them to be enthralled by the great patriotic feat of the Russian 
people, and overlook the twelve years of internal genocide. 

The Doomed | 17 

you or do you not hold that being determines consciousness? Or 
only when it suits you? And when it doesn’t suit you does it cease 
to be true? 

Then again, some of us are very good at saying — and a shadow 
flits over our faces — “Well, yes, certain errors were committed.** 
Always the same disingenuously innocent, impersonal form: 
“were committed’* — only nobody knows by whom. You might 
almost think that it was by ordinary workers, by men who shift 
heavy loads, by collective farmers. Nobody has the courage to say: 
“The Party committed them! Our irremovable and irresponsible 
leaders committed them!” Yet by whom, except those who had 
power, could such errors be “committed”? Lump all the blame on 
Stalin? Have you no sense of humor? If Stalin committed all these 
errors — where were you at the time, you ruling millions? 

Ift any case, even these mistakes have faded in our eyes to a dim, 
shapeless blur, and they are no longer regarded as the result of 
stupidity, fanaticism, and malice; they are all subsumed in the only 
mistake acknowledged — that Communists jailed Communists. If 
15 to 17 million peasants were ruined, sent off for destruction, 
scattered about the country without the right to remember their 
parents or mention them by name — that was apparently no mis- 
take. And all the tributary streams of the sewage system surveyed 
at the beginning of this book were also, it seems, no mistake. That 
they were utterly unprepared for war with Hitler, emptily vain- 
glorious, that they retreated shamefully, changing their slogans as 
they ran, that only Ivan fighting for Holy Russia halted the Ger- 
mans on the Volga — all this turns out to be not a silly blunder, 
but possibly Stalin’s greatest achievement. 

In the space of two months we abandoned very nearly one-third 
of our population to the enemy — including all those incompletely 
destroyed families; including camps with several thousand in- 
mates, who scattered as soon as their guards ran for it; including 
prisons in the Ukraine and the Baltic States, where smoke still 
hung in the air after the mass shooting of political prisoners. 

As long as we were strong, we smothered these unfortunates, 
hounded them, denied them work, drove them from their homes, 
hurried them into their graves. When our weakness was revealed, 
we | immediately demanded that they should forget all the harm 
done them, forget the parents and children who had died of hun- 
ger in the tundra, forget the executions, forget how we ruined 
them, forget our ingratitude to them, forget interrogation and 


torture at the hands of the NKVD, forget the starvation camps — 
and immediately join the partisans, go underground to defend the 
Homeland, with no thought for their lives. (There was no need for 
us to change! And no one held out the hope that when we came 
back we should treat them any differently, no longer hounding, 
harassing, jailing, and shooting them.) 

Given this state of affairs, should we be surprised that too many 
people welcomed the arrival of the Germans? Or surprised that 
there were so few who did? (The Germans could sometimes be the 
instrument of justice: remember what happened to people who 
had served in Soviet times as informers, the shooting of the deacon 
at the Naberezhno-Nikolskaya Church in Kiev, for instance — and 
there were scores of similar cases.) 

And the believers? For twenty years on end, religious belief was 
persecuted and churches closed down. The Germans came — and 
churches began to open their doors. (Our masters lacked the nerve 
to shut them again immediately after the German withdrawal.) In 
Rostov-on-the-Don, for instance, the ceremonial opening of the 
churches was an occasion for mass rejoicing and great crowds 
gathered. Were they nonetheless supposed to curse the Germans 
for this? 

In Rostov again, in the first days of the war, Aleksandr Pe- 
trovich M , an engineer, was arrested and died in a cell under 

interrogation. For several anxious months his wife expected to be 
arrested herself. Only when the Germans came could she go to bed 
with a quiet mind. "Now at least I can get some sleep!" Should 
she instead have prayed for the return of her tormentors? 

In May, 1943, while the Germans were in Vinnitsa, men digging 
in an orchard on Podlesnaya Street (which the city soviet had 
surrounded with a high fence early in 1939 and declared a "re- 
stricted area under the People’s Commissariat of Defense”) found 
themselves uncovering graves which had previously escaped no- 
tice because they were overgrown with luxuriant grass. They 
found thirty-nine mass graves, 3.5 meters deep, 3 meters wide, 4 
meters long. In each grave they found first a layer of outer gar- 
ments belonging to the deceased, then bodies laid alternately head 
first or feet first. The hands of all of them were tied with rope, and 
they had all been shot by small-bore pistols in the back of the head. 
They had evidently been executed in prison and carted out for 
burial by night. Documents which had not decayed made it possi- 
ble to identify people who had been sentenced to "20 years without 

The Doomed | 19 

the right to correspond” in 1938. Plate No. 1 is one picture of the 
excavation site: inhabitants of Vinnitsa have come to view the 
bodies or identify their relatives. There was more to come. Iii June 
they began digging near the Orthodox cemetery, outside the Piro- 
gov Hospital, and discovered another forty-two graves. Next the 
Gjorky Park of Culture and Rest — where, under the swings and 
carrousel, the “funhouse,” the games area, and the dance floor, 
fourteen more mass graves were found. Altogether, 9,439 corpses 
in ninety-five graves. This was in Vinnitsa alone, and the discover- 
ies were accidental. How many lie successfully hidden in other 
towns? After viewing these corpses, were the population supposed 
to rush off and join the partisans? 

Perhaps in fairness we should at least admit that if you and I 
suffer when we and all we hold dear are trodden underfoot, those 
we tread on feel no less pain. Perhaps in fairness we should at last 
admit that those whom we seek to destroy have a right to hate us. 
Or have they no such right? Are they supposed to die gratefully? 

jWe attribute deep-seated if not indeed congenital malice to 
these Polizei, these burgomasters — but we ourselves planted their 
malice in them, they were “waste products” of our making. How 
does Krylenko’s dictum go? “In our eyes every crime is the prod- 
uct of a particular social system!” 6 In this case — of your system, 
comrades! Don’t forget your own doctrine! 

Let us not forget either that among those of our fellow country- 
man who took up the sword against us or attacked us in words, 
some were completely disinterested. No property had been taken 
from them (they had had none to begin with), they had never been 
imprisoned in the camps (nor yet had any of their kin), but they 
had long ago been sickened by our whole system: its contempt for 
tlie fate of the individual; the persecution of people for their be- 
liefs; that cynical song ‘There’s no land where men can breathe 
sb freely”; the kowtowing of the devout to the Leader; the nervous 
twitching of pencils as everyone hurries to sign up for the state 
loan; the obligatory applause rising to an ovation! Cannot we 
realize that these perfectly normal people could not breathe our 
fetid air? (Father Fyodor Florya’s accusers asked him how he had 
dared talk about Stalin’s foul deeds when the Rumanians were on 
the spot. “How could I say anything different about you?” he 
answered. “I only told them what I knew. I only told them what 

6. Krylenko, Za Pyat Let (1918-1922), p. 337. 


had happened.” What we ask is something different: lie, go against 
your conscience, perish — just so long as it helps us! But this, unless 
I’m mistaken, is hardly materialism.) 

In September, 1941, before I went into the army, my wife and 
I, young schoolteachers who had just started work in the settle- 
ment of Morozovsk (captured by the Germans in the following 
year), happened to rent lodgings on the same little yard as a 
childless couple, the Bronevitskys. Nikolai Gerasimovich Brone- 
vitsky, a sixty-year-old engineer, was an intellectual of Chek- 
hovian appearance, very likable, quiet, and clever. When I try now 
to recall his long face I imagine him with pince-nez, though he 
may not have worn them at all. His wife was even quieter and 
gentler than he was — a faded woman with flaxen hair close to her 
head, twenty-five years younger than her husband, but not at all 
young in her behavior. We were fond of them, and they probably 
liked us, particularly in contrast to our grasping landlord and his 
greedy family. 

In the evenings the four of us would sit on the steps of the porqh. 
They were quiet, warm, moonlit evenings, not as yet rent by the 
rumble of planes and by exploding bombs, but anxiety about the 
German advance was stealing over us like the invisible clouds 
stealing over the milky sky to smother the small and defenseless 
moon. Every day new trainloads of refugees stopped at the station, 
on their way to Stalingrad. Refugees filled the marketplace of the 
settlement with rumors, terrors, 100-ruble notes that seemed to 
bum holes in their pockets, then they continued their journey. 
They named towns which had surrendered, about which the Infor- 
mation Bureau, afraid to tell people the truth, would keep silent 
for a long time to come. (Bronevitsky spoke of these towns not as 
having “surrendered” but as having been “taken.”) 

We were sitting on the steps and talking. We younger people 
were full of ourselves, of anxiety for the future, but we really had 
nothing more intelligent to say about it than what was written in 
the newspapers. We were at ease with the Bronevitskys: we said 
whatever we thought without noticing the discrepancies between 
our way of looking at things and theirs. 

For their part, they probably saw in us two surprising examples 
of naively enthusiastic youth. We had just lived through the thir- 
ties — and we might as well not have been alive in that decade at 
all. They asked what we remembered best about 1938 and 1939. 
What do you think we said? The university library, examinations, 

The Doomed | 21 

the fun we had on sporting trips, dances, amateur concerts, and 
of course love affairs — we were at the age for love. But hadn’t any 
of our professors been put away at that time? Yes, we supposed 
that two or three of them had been. Their places were taken by 
senior lecturers. What about students — had any of them gone 
inside? We remembered that some senior students had indeed been 
jailed. And what did you make of it? Nothing; we carried on 
dancing. And no one near to you was— er — touched? No; no one. 

It is a terrible thing, and I want to recall it with absolute 
precision. It is all the more terrible because I was not one of the 
young sporting and dancing set, nor one of those obsessive people 
buried in books and formulae. I was keenly interested in politics 
from the age of ten; even as a callow adolescent I did not believe 
Vyshinsky and was staggered by the fraudulence of the famous 
trials-^-but nothing led me to draw the line connecting those min- 
ute Moscow trials (which seemed so tremendous at the time) with 
the huge crushing wheel rolling through the land (the number of 
its victims somehow escaped notice). I had spent my childhood in 
queues — for bread, for milk, for meal (meat was a thing unknown 
at that time) — but I could not make the connection between the 
lack of bread and the ruin of the countryside, or understand why 
it had happened. We were provided with another formula: “tem- 
porary difficulties.” Every night, in the large town where we lived, 
hour after hour after hour people were being hauled off to jail — 
but I did not walk the streets at night. And in die daytime the 
families of those arrested hung out no black flags, nor did my 
classmates say a word about their fathers being taken away. 

According to the newspapers there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. 

And young men are so eager to believe that all is well. 

I understand now how dangerous it was for the Bronevitskys 
to tell us anything. But he gave us just a peep into his past, this 
old engineer who had got in the way of one of the OGPlTs* 
crudest blows. He had lost his health in prison, been pulled in a 
time or two, got to know quite a few camps, but he talked with 
blazing passion only about Dzhezkazgan in its early days — about 
the water poisoned by copper; about the poisoned air; about the 
murders; about the futility of complaints to Moscow. The very 
word Dzhez-kaz-gan made your flesh creep — like steel wool 
rubbed on the skin, or like the tales of its pitiless ways. (And yet 
... did this Dzhezkazgan have the slightest effect on our way of 
looking at the world? Of course not. It was not very near. It was 


not happening to us. You have to experience it for yourself. It is 
better not to think about it. Better to forget.) 

There in Dzhezkazgan, when Bronevitsky was allowed outside 
the guarded area, his present wife, then a mere girl, had come to 
him, and they had been married with the barbed wire for witness. 
When war broke out they were, by some miracle, at liberty in 
Morozovsk, with black marks in their passports, of course. He was 
working in some wretched construction agency, and she was a 

I went off to the army, and my wife left Morozovsk. The settle- 
ment came under German occupation. Then it was liberated. And 
one day my wife wrote to me at the front: “Can you imagine it 
— they say that Bronevitsky acted as burgomaster for the Ger- 
mans while they were in Morozovsk. How disgusting!” I was just 
as shocked. “Filthy thing to do!” I thought. 

But a few more years went by. Lying on the sleeping platform 
in some dark jail and turning things over in my mind, I remem- 
bered Bronevitsky. And I was no longer so schoolboyishly self- 
righteous. They had unjustly taken his job from him, given him 
work that was beneath him, locked him up, tortured him, beaten 
him, starved him, spat in his face — what was he supposed to do? 
He was supposed to believe that all this was the price of progress, 
and that his own life, physical and spiritual, the lives of those dear 
to him, the anguished lives of our whole people, were of no signifi- 

Through the smoke screen of the personality cult, thin and 
ineffectual as it is, through the intervening layers of time in which 
we have changed, each of which has its own sharp angle of refrac- 
tion, we see neither ourselves nor the thirties in true perspective 
and true shape. Idolization of Stalin, boundless and unquestioning 
faith, were not characteristic of the whole people, but only of the 
Party and the Komsomol; of urban youth in schools and universi- 
ties; of ersatz intellectuals (a surrogate for those who had been 
destroyed or dispersed); and to some extent of the urban petty 
bourgeoisie (the working class) 7 — their loudspeakers were never 
switched off from the morning chimes of the Spassky belfry to the 
playing of the Internationale at midnight, and for them die voice 
of the radio announcer Levitan* became the voice of conscience. 

7. It was in the thirties that the working class merged completely with the petty bourgeoi- 
sie, and became its main constituent part 

The Doomed | 23 

(I say “to some extent” because labor legislation like the “twenty 
minutes late” decree and the tying of the workers to their factories 
enlisted no supporters.) All the same, there was an urban minor- 
ity, and not such a small one, numbering at the least several 
millions, who pulled out the radio plug in disgust whenever they 
dared. On every page of every newspaper they saw merely a 
spreading stain of lies, and polling day for these millions was a day 
of suffering and humiliation. For this minority the dictatorship 
existing in our country was neither proletarian nor national in 
character, nor yet (for those who recalled the original sense of the 
word) Soviet, but the dictatorship of another minority, a usurping 
minority, which was very far from being a spiritual elite. 

Mankind is almost incapable of dispassionate, unemotional 
thinking. In something which he has recognized as evil man can 
seldom force himself to see also what is good. Not everything in 
our lives was foul, not every word in the papers was false, but the 
minority, downtrodden, bullied, beset by stool pigeons, saw life in 
our country as an abomination from top to bottom, saw every page 
in the newspapers as one long lie. Let us recall that in those days 
there were no Western broadcasts in Russian (and the number of 
private radio sets was inconsiderable), so that a citizen could 
obtain information only from our newspapers and the official 
radio, in which Bronevitsky and his like expectedfrom experience 
to find only cowardly suppression of facts or a vexatious tangle of 
lies. Everything that was written about other countries, about the 
inevitable collapse of the West in 1930, about the treachery of 
Western socialists, about the passionate hostility of all Spain to 
Franco (or in 1942 about Nehru's treasonable aspiration to free- 
dom in India — which of course weakened our ally the British 
Empire), all this proved to be nothing but lies. The maddeningly 
monotonous, hate-filled propaganda conducted on the principle 
that “he who is not for us is against us” had never drawn distinc- 
tions between the attitudes of Mariya Spiridonova and Nicholas 
II, those of Leon Blum and Hitler, those of the British Parliament 
and the German Reichstag. So when Bronevitsky read apparently 
fantastic stories about bonfires of books in German squares, and 
the resurrection of some sort of ancient Teutonic savagery (we 
must not forget that Tsarist propaganda during the First World 
War had also told a few fibs about Teuton savagery), how could 
he be expected to distinguish them from all the rest, single them 
out as true, recognize in German Nazism (reviled in almost the 


same — inordinate — terms as Poincare, Pilsudski, and the British 
conservatives earlier) a quadruped as dangerous as that which in 
reality and in the flesh had for a quarter of a century past been 
squeezing the life out of him, poisoning his existence, clawing him 
till he bled, and with him the whole Archipelago, the Russian 
town, the Russian village? Then the newspapers were forever 
changing their minds about the Hitlerites: at first it was friendly 
encounters between nice sentries in nasty Poland, and the newspa- 
pers were awash with sympathy for the valiant warriors standing 
up to French and English bankers, and Hitler’s speeches, verba- 
tim, filled a page of Pravda at a time; then one morning (the 
second morning of the war) an explosion of headlines — all Europe 
was piteously groaning under the Nazi heel. This only confirmed 
that newspaper lies changed as the wind shifted, and could do 
nothing to persuade Bronevitsky that other butchers on this earth 
were a match for ours, about whom he knew the truth. If someone 
had tried to convince him by putting BBC bulletins before him 
daily, he might at most have been made to believe that Hitler was 
a secondary danger to Russia but certainly not, while Stalin lived, 
the greatest. As it was, the BBC provided no bulletins; the Soviet 
Information Bureau from the day it was bom commanded no 
more credit than Tass; the rumors carried by evacuees were not 
firsthand information (from Germany or from the occupied areas 
no living witness had yet appeared). What he did know at first 
hand was the camp at Dzhezkazgan, and 1937, and the famine of 
1932, and “dekulakization,” and the destruction of the churches. 
So that as the German army approached, Bronevitsky (and tens 
of thousands of lonely individuals like him) felt that their hour was 
drawing near — the hour which they had ceased to hope for twenty 
years ago, which is given to a man only once, then lost forever, 
since our lives are so short measured against the slow pace of 
historical change — the hour in which he can repudiate what has 
befallen, what has been visited upon, flogged, and trampled into 
his people, serve in some way still obscure his agonized country, 
help to revive some sort of public life in Russia. Yes, Bronevitsky 
had remembered everything and forgiven nothing. He could never 
accept as his own a regime which had thrashed Russia unmerci- 
fully, brought it to collectivized beggary, to moral degeneracy, and 
now to a stunning military defeat. He choked with anger as he 
looked at naive creatures like me, like us, for it was beyond his 
power to convert us. He was waiting for someone, anyone, to take 

The Doomed | 25 

power in place of Stalin! (The well-known psychological phe- 
nomenon of reaction to extremes: anything rather than the 
nauseous reality we know! Can we imagine, anywhere in the 
world, anyone worse than our rulers? Incidentally, this was in 
the Don region — where half the population were just as ea- 
gerly awaiting the Germans.) So then Bronevitsky, who had 
been an apolitical being all his life, resolved in his seventh dec- 
ade to make a political move. 

He consented to head the Morozovsk municipal authority 

There, I think, he must quickly have seen what a silly situation 
he had landed himself in, seen that for the new arrivals Russia was 
even more insignificant and detestable than for those who had 
gone away — that the vampire needed only Russia’s vital fluids, 
and that the body could wither and perish. The new burgomaster’s 
task was to be in charge not of public-spirited Russians, but of 
auxiliaries to the German police. But he was fastened to the axle 
and now, like it or not, he could only spin. Having freed himself 
from one lot of butchers, he must help another. The patriotic idea, 
which he had thought of as diametrically opposed to the Soviet 
idea, he suddenly saw fused with it: in some incomprehensible 
fashion patriotism had slipped away like water through a sieve 
from the minority who had preserved it, and passed to the major- 
ity; it was forgotten how people had been shot for patriotism, how 
it had been ridiculed, and now it was the main stem of someone 
else’s tree. 

He, and others like him, must have felt trapped and terrified: 
the crack had narrowed and the only way out led to death or to 

Of course, they were not all Bronevitskys. Of course, many 
birds of prey greedy for power and blood had flocked to that brief 
feast in time of plague. But their like will flock wherever there are 
pickings. They were very much at home in the NKVD, too. Such 
a one was Mamulov, or Antonov at Dudinsk, or Poisui-Shapka — 
can anyone imagine fouler butchers? (See Volume IX.) Yet they 
lorded it for decades and bled the people dry a hundred times over. 
We shall shortly meet Warder Tkach — one of those who managed 
to fit into both contexts. 

We have been talking about the towns, but we should not forget 
the countryside. Liberals nowadays commonly reproach the vil- 
lage with its political obtuseness and conservatism. But before the 
war the village to a man, or overwhelmingly, was sober, much 


more sober than the town: it took no part at all in the deification 
of Daddy Stalin (and needless to say had no time for world revolu- 
tion either). The village was, quite simply, sane and remembered 
clearly how it had been promised land, then robbed of it; how it 
had lived, eaten, and dressed before and after collectivization; how 
calves, ewes, and even hens had been taken away from the peas- 
ant’s yard; how churches had been desecrated and defiled. Even 
in 1941 the radio’s nasal bray was not yet heard in peasant huts, 
and not every village had even one person able to read the newspa- 
pers, so that to the Russian countryside all those Chang Tso-lins, 
MacDonalds, and Hitlers were indistinguishably strange and 
meaningless lay figures. 

In a village in Ryazan Province on July 3, 1941, peasants gath- 
ered near the smithy were listening to Stalin’s speech relayed by 
a loudspeaker. The man of iron, hitherto unmoved by the tears of 
Russian peasants, was now a bewildered old gaffer almost in tears 
himself, and as soon as he blurted out his humbugging “Brothers 
and .Sisters,” one of the peasants answered the black paper mouth- 
piece. ‘This is what you want, you bastard,” and he made in the 
direction of the loudspeaker a rude gesture much favored by Rus- 
sians: one hand grips the opposite elbow, and the forearm rises and 
falls in a pumping motion. 

The peasants all roared with laughter. 

If we questioned eyewitnesses in every village, we should learn 
of ten thousand such incidents, some still more pungent. 

Such was the mpod of the Russian village at the beginning of 
the war — the mood, then, of the reservists drinking the last half- 
liter and dancing in the dust with their kinsmen while they waited 
at some wayside halt for a train. On top of all this came a defeat 
without precedent in Russian memories, as vast rural areas 
stretching to the outskirts of both capitals and to the Volga, as 
many millions of peasants, slipped from under, kolkhoz rule, and 
— why go on lying and prettifying history? — it turned out that the 
republics only wanted independence, the village only wanted free- 
dom from the kolkhoz! The workers freedom from feudal decrees! 
If the newcomers had not been so hopelessly arrogant and stupid, 
if they had not preserved the bureaucratic kolkhoz administration 
for Great Germany’s convenience, if they had not conceived the 
obscene idea of turning Russia into a colony, the patriotic cause 
would not have devolved on those who had always tried to 
smother it, and we should hardly have been called upon to cele- 

The Doomed | 27 

brate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Russian Communism. 
(Somebody, someday, will have to tell us how the peasants in 
occupied areas never joined the partisan movement of their own 
free will, and how to begin with they took up arms against the 
partisans rather than hand over their grain and cattle.) 

Do you remember the great exodus from the Northern Cauca- 
sus in January, 1943 — and can you think of any analogy in world 
history? A civilian population, and a peasant population at that, 
leaving with a defeated enemy, with an alien army, rather than 
stay behind with the victors, their fellow countrymen — the wagon 
trains rolling as far as the eye could see through the fierce, icy 
January winds! 

Here, too, lie the social roots of those hundreds of thousands 
of volunteers who, monster though Hitler was, were desperate 
enough to don enemy uniform. The time has come for us to give 
our views on the Vlasov movement* once again. In the first part 
of this book the reader was not yet prepared for the whole truth 
(nor am I in possession of the whole truth; special studies will be 
written on the subject, which is for me of secondary importance). 
There at the beginning, before the reader had traveled the high- 
roads and byroads of the camp world with me, he was merely 
alerted, invited to think. Now, after all those prison transports, 
transit jails, lumber gangs, and camp middens, perhaps the reader 
will be a little more open to persuasion. In Part I, I spoke of those 
Vlasovites who took up arms in desperation, because they were 
starving in camps, because their position seemed hopeless. (Yet 
even here there is room for reflection: the Germans began by using 
Russian prisoners of war only for nonmilitary tasks in the rear, in 
support of their own troops, and this, you might think, <*was the 
best solution for those who only wanted to save their skins — so 
why did they take up arms and confront the Red Army head on?) 
But now, since further postponement is impossible, should I not 
also talk about those who even before 1941 had only one dream 
— to take up arms and blaze away at those Red commissars, 
Chekists,* and collectivizers? Remember Lenin’s words: “An op- 
pressed class which did not aspire to possess arms and learn how 
to handle them would deserve only to be treated as slaves” 
(Fourth Edition, Volume 23, page 85). There is, then, reason to 
be proud if the Soviet-German war showed that we are not such 
slaves as all those studies by liberal historians contemptuously 
make us out to be. There was nothing slavish about those who 

1 / 


reached for their sabers to cut off Daddy Stalin’s head (nor about 
those on the other side, who straightened their backs for the first 
time when they put on Red Army greatcoats — in a strange brief 
interval of freedom which no student of society could have fore- 

These people, who had experienced on their own hides twenty- 
four years of Communist happiness, knew by 1941 what as yet no 
one else in the world knew: that nowhere on the planet, nowhere 
in history, was there a regime more vicious, more bloodthirsty, 
and at the same time more cunning and ingenious than the Bol- 
shevik, the self-styled Soviet regime. That no other regime on 
earth could compare with it either in the number of those it had 
done to death, in hardiness, in the range of its ambitions, in its 
thoroughgoing and unmitigated totalitarianism — no, not even the 
regime of its pupil Hitler, which at that time blinded Western eyes 
to all else. Came the time when weapons were put in the hands 
of these people, should they have curbed their passions, allowed 
Bolshevism to outlive itself, steeled themselves to cruel oppression 
again — and only then begun the struggle with it (a struggle which 
has still hardly started anywhere in the world)? No, the natural 
thing was to copy the methods of Bolshevism itself: it had eaten 
into the body of a Russia sapped by the First World War, and it 
must be defeated at a similar moment in the Second. 

Our unwillingness to fight had already shown itself in the Sovi- 
et-Finnish war of 1939. V. G. Bazhanov, formerly Secretary of the 
Politburo and Orgburo of the CPSU(b)* and Stalin’s close assist- 
ant, tried to exploit this mood: to turn captured Red Army men 
against the Soviet lines under the command of Russian emigre 
officers — not to fight their compatriots but to convert them. The 
attempt was abruptly terminated by the sudden capitulation of 

When the Soviet-German war began, ten years after the slaugh- 
terous collectivization, eight years after the great Ukrainian fam- 
ine (six million dead, unnoticed by neighboring Europe), four 
years after the devil’s dance of the NKVD, one year after the 
workers were shackled to the new labor laws — and all this when 
there were IS million in camps about the country, and while the 
older generation all clearly remembered what life was like before 
the Revolution — the natural impulse of the people was to take a 
deep breath and liberate itself, its natural feeling one of loathing 
for its rulers. “Caught us unawares”; “numerical superiority in 

The Doomed | 29 - 

aircraft and tanks” (in fact, all-round numerical superiority was 
enjoyed by the Red Army) — it was not this that enabled the enemy 
to close so easily those disastrous salients, taking 300,000 armed 
men at a time (Bialystok, Smolensk), or 650,000 (Bryansk, Kiev); 
not this that caused whole fronts to cave in, and rolled our armies 
back farther and faster than anything Russia had seen in all its one 
thousand years, or, probably, any other country in any other war 
— not this, but the instant paralysis of a paltry regime whose 
subjects recoiled from it as from a hanging corpse. (The raikoms 
and gorkoms* were blown away in five minutes, and Stalin was 
gasping for breath.) In 1941 this upheaval might have run its full 
course (by December, 60 million Soviet people out of a population 
of 150 millions were no longer in Stalin’s power). The alarmist 
note in Stalin’s Order No. 0019, July 16, 1941, was justified. “On 
all [!] fronts there are numerous [!] elements who even run to meet 
the enemy p], and throw down their arms at the first contact with 
him.” (In the Bialystok salient in July, 1941, among 340,000 
prisoners there were 20,000 deserters.) Stalin thought the situation 
so desperate that in October, 1941, he sent a telegram to Churchill 
suggesting that twenty-five to thirty British divisions be landed on 
Soviet territory. What Communist has ever suffered a more com- 
plete moral collapse! This was the mood of the time: on August 
22, 1941, the commanding officer of the 436th Light Infantry 
Regiment, Major Kononov, told his regiment to their faces that 
he was going over to the Germans, to join the “Liberation Army” 
for the overthrow of Stalin, and invited all who wished to go with 
him. Not only did he meet with no opposition — the whole regiment 
followed him! Only three weeks later Kononov had created a 
regiment of Cossack volunteers behind the enemy lines (he was a 
Don Cossack himself). When he arrived at the prisoner-of-war 
camp near Mogilev to enlist volunteers, 4,000 of the 5,000 prison- 
ers there declared their readiness to join him, but he could not take 
them all. In the same year, half the Soviet prisoners of war in the 
camp near Tilsit — 12,000 men — signed a declaration that the time 
had come to convert the war into a civil war. We have not forgot- 
ten how the whole population of Lokot-Bryansky, before the ar- 
rival of the Germans and independently of them, joined in the 
creation of an autonomous Russian local administration over a 
large and flourishing province, with eight districts, and more than 
a million inhabitants. The demands of the Lokot-Bryansky com- 
munity were quite precise: a Russian national government to be 


established, Russians to administer themselves in all the occupied 
provinces, Russia to be declared independent within its 1938 fron- 
tiers, a “Liberation Army" to be formed under Russian command. 
Or again, a group of young people in Leningrad numbering more 
than 1,000 (led by the student Rutchenko) went out in the woods 
near Gatchina to await the Germans and fight against the Stalin 
regime. (The Germans, however, sent them behind the lines to 
work as drivers and kitchen orderlies.) The Germans were met 
with bread and salt in the villages on the Don. The pre-1941 
population of the Soviet Union naturally imagined that the com- 
ing of a foreign army meant the overthrow of the Communist 
regime — otherwise it could have no meaning for us at all. People 
expected a political program which would liberate them from 

From where we were, separated from them by the wilderness 
of Soviet propaganda, by the dense mass of Hitler's army — how 
could we readily believe that the Western allies had entered this 
war not for the sake of freedom in general, but for their own 
Western European freedom, only against Nazism, intending to 
take full advantage of the Soviet armies and leave it at that? Was 
it not more natural for us to believe that our allies were true to 
the very principle of freedom and that they would not abandon us 
to a worse tyranny? . . . True, these were the same allies for whom 
Russians had died in the First World War, and who then, too, had 
abandoned our army in the moment of collapse, hastening back 
to their comforts. But this was a lesson too cruel for the heart to 

Having rightly taught ourselves to disbelieve Soviet propa- 
ganda, whatever it said, we naturally did not believe tall stories 
about the Nazis’ wishing to make Russia a colony and ourselves 
German slaves; who would expect to find such foolishness in 
twentieth-century heads, unless he had experienced its effects for 
himself? Even in 1942 the Russian formation in Osintorf attracted 
more volunteers than a unit still not fully deployed could absorb, 
while in the Smolensk region and Byelorussia, a volunteer “peo- 
ple's militia" 100,000 strong was formed for purposes of self- 
defense against the partisans directed from Moscow (the Germans 
took fright and banned it). As late as spring, 1943, on his two 
propaganda tours in the Smolensk and Pskov regions, Vlasov was 
greeted with enthusiasm wherever he went. Even then, the popula- 
tion was still waiting and wondering when we should have our 

The Doomed | 31 

own independent government and our own army. I have testi- 
mony from the Pozherevitsky district of the Pskov oblast about 
the friendly attitude of the peasant population to the Vlasov unit 
there — which refrained from looting and brawling, wore the old 
Russian uniform, helped with the harvest, and was regarded as a 
Russian organ of authority opposed to kolkhozes. Volunteers 
from among the civilian population came to sign on (just as they 
did in Lokot-Bryansky with Voskoboinikov’s unit)— and we are 
bound to wonder what made them do so. It was not as though they 
were getting out of a POW camp. In fact, the Germans several 
times forbade Vlasovites to take in reinforcements (let them sign 
on with the Polizei). As late as March, 1943, prisoners of war in 
a camp near Kharkov read leaflets about the Vlasov movement (so 
called) and 730 officers signed an application to join the “Russian 
Liberation Army”; they had the experience of two years of war 
behind them, many were heroes of the battle for Stalingrad, their 
number included divisional commanders and regimental commis- 
sars — moreover, the camp was very well fed, and it was not the 
desperation of hunger that induced them to sign. (The Germans, 
however, behaved with typical stupidity; of the 730 who signed, 
722 had still not been released from the camp and given a chance 
to act when the war ended.) Even in 1943 tens of thousands of 
refugees from the Soviet provinces trailed along behind the re- 
treating German army — anything was better than remaining 
under Communism. 

I will go so far as to say that our folk would have been worth 
nothing at all, a nation of abject slaves, if it had gone through that 
war without brandishing a rifle at Stalin's government even from 
afar, if it had missed its chance to shake its fist and fling a ripe oath 
at the Father of the Peoples. The Germans had their generals' plot 
— but what did we have? Our generals were (and remain to this 
day) nonentities, corrupted by Party ideology and greed, and have 
not preserved in their own persons the spirit of the nation, as 
happens in other countries. So that those who raised their hands 
and struck were almost to a man from the lowest levels of society 
— the number of former gentry emigres, former members of the 
wealthier strata, and intellectuals taking part was microscopically 
small. If this movement had been allowed to develop unhindered, 
to flow with the same force as in the first weeks of the war, it would 
have been like a second Pugachev rising* — resemblihg the first in 
the numbers and social level of those swept in its train, in the 


weight of popular support, in the part played by the Cossacks, in 
spirit (its determination to settle accounts with evildoers in high 
places), in the contrast between its elemental force and the weak- 
ness of its leadership. However this may be, it was very much more 
a movement of the people, the common people , than the whole 
’liberation movement” of the intelligentsia from the beginning of 
the twentieth century right up to February, 1917, with its pseudo- 
popular aims and its harvest in October. It was not, however, 
destined to run its course, but to perish ignominiously, stigmatized 
as “treason to our holy Motherland”! 

We have lost the taste for social analysis of events — because 
such explanations are juggled around to suit the need of the mo- 
ment. But what of our friendship pact with Ribbentrop and Hit- 
ler? The braggadocio of Molotov and Voroshilov before the war? 
And then, the staggering incompetence, the uhpreparedness, the 
fumbling (and the craven flight of the government from Moscow), 
the armies abandoned, half a million at a time, in the salients— 
was this not betrayal of the Motherland? With more serious conse- 
quences? Why do we cherish these traitors so tenderly in their 
apartments on Granovsky Street? 

Oh, the length of it! The length of the prisoners’ bench with 
seats for all those who tormented and betrayed our people, if we 
could bring them all, from first to last, to account. 

Awkward questions get no answers in our country. They are 
passed over in silence. Instead, this is the sort of thing they yell 
at us: 

“It’s the principle! The very principle of the thing! Does any 
Russian, to achieve his own political ends, however just they 
appear to him, have the right to lean on the strong right arm of 
German imperialism?! . . . And that at the moment of war to the 

True enough, this is the crucial question: Ought you, for what 
seem to you noble ends, to avail yourself of the support of German 
imperialists at war with Russia? 

Today, everyone will join in a unanimous cry of “No!” 

What, then, of the sealed German carriage from Switzerland to 
Sweden, calling on the way (as we have now learned) at Berlin? 
The whole Russian press, from the Mensheviks to the Cadets,* 
also cried “No!” but the Bolsheviks explained that it was permissi- 
ble, that it was indeed ridiculous to reproach them with it. But this 
is not the only train journey worth mentioning. How many rail- 

The Doomed | 33 

road cars did the Bolsheviks rush out of Russia in summer, 1918, 
some carrying foodstuffs, others gold — all of them into Wilhelm’s 
capacious maw! Convert the war into a civil war! This was Lenin's 
proposal before the Vlasovites thought of it. 

— Yes, but his aims! Remember what his aims were! 

Well, what were they? And what has become of them, those 

— Yes, but really — that was Wilhelm! The Kaiser! The little 
Emperor! A bit different from Hitler! And anyway, was there 
really any govemment in Russia at the time? The Provisional 
Government doesn’t count. . . . 

Well, there was a time when, inflamed with martial ardor, we 
never mentioned the Kaiser in print without the words “fero- 
cious” or “bloodthirsty,” and incautiously accused the Kaiser’s 
soldiers of smashing the heads of babes against stones. But let’s 
agree — the Kaiser was different from Hitler. The Provisional Gov- 
ernment, though, was also different: it had no Cheka, shot no one 
in the back of the head, imprisoned no one in camps, herded no 
one into collective farms, poisoned no one’s life: die Provisional 
Government was not Stalin’s government. 

We must keep things in proportion. 

It was not that someone took fright as katorga killed off one 
“alphabet” after another, but simply that with the war drawing 
to an end there was no need for such a savage deterrent: no new 
Polizei units could be formed, working hands were needed, and 
in katorga people were dying off uselessly. So as early as 1945 huts 
in katorga ceased to be prison cells, doors were opened to let in 
the daylight, slop buckets were carried out to the latrines, prison- 
ers were allowed to make their own way to the Medical Section 
and were trotted to the mess hall at the double to keep their spirits 
up. The thieves who used to filch other prisoners’ rations were 
removed, and mess orderlies appointed from among the politicals 
themselves. Later on, prisoners were allowed to receive letters, 
two a year. 

The line between katorga and the ordinary camps became 
blurred in the years 1946-1947. Unfastidious managing engineers 
did not let political distinctions stand in the way of plan fulfillment 


and began (in Vorkuta at least) to transfer political offenders with 
good qualifications to ordinary Camp Divisions, where nothing 
but the numbers on their backs reminded them of katorga, while 
rank-and-file manual laborers from Corrective Labor Camps were 
shoved into katorga to fill the gaps. 

In this way the thoughtless managers might have thwarted 
Stalin’s great idea of resurrecting katorga — except that in 1948 a 
new idea came to him just in time, that of dividing the natives of 
Gulag into distinct groups, separating the socially acceptable 
thieves and delinquents from the socially irredeemable 58’s. 

All this was part of a still greater concept, the Reinforcement 
of the Home Front (it is obvious from the choice of words that 
Stalin was preparing for war in the near future). Special Camps 8 
were set up with a special regime, slightly milder than that of the 
katorga earlier on, but harsher than that of the ordinary camps. 

To distinguish them from other camps, fantastic poetical titles 
were invented for them instead of ordinary geographical names. 
Such new creations included Gorlag* at Norilsk, Berlag on the 
Kolyma, Minlag on the Inta, Rechlag on the Pechora, Dubrovlag 
at Potma, Ozerlag at Taishet, Steplag, Peschanlag, and Luglag in 
Kazakhstan, Kamyshlag in Kemerovo Province. 

Dark rumors crept around the Corrective Labor Camps, that 
58’s would be sent to Special Extermination Camps. (It did not, 
of course, enter the heads either of those carrying out the orders 
or of the victims that any formal additional sentences might be 

The Registration and Distribution and the Security Opera- " 
tions sections worked furiously. Secret lists were made and 
driven away somewhere for approval. Long red prisoner-tran- 
sport trains were moved in, companies of brisk red-tabbed 
guards* marched up with Tommy guns, dogs, and hammers, 
and the enemies of the people, as their names were called, 
meekly obeyed the inexorable summons to leave their cozy 
huts and begin the long transit. 

But not all 58*s were summoned. It was only later, comparing 
notes on their acquaintances, that the prisoners realized which of 
them had been left behind on Corrective Labor islands with the 
minor offenders. Among them were those convicted under Article 
58, Section 10, with no further charges. This covered simple Anti- 

8. Cf. the Special Purpose Camps set up in 1921. 

The Doomed | 35 

Soviet Agitation, which meant that it was a gratuitous act, without 
accomplices, and not aimed at anyone in particular. (Though it 
may seem almost impossible to imagine such agitators, millions of 
them were on the books, and were left behind on the older islands 
of Gulag.) Agitators who had formed duets or trios, shown any 
inclination to listen to each other, to exchange views, or to grum- 
ble in chorus, had been burdened with an additional charge under 
Article 58, .Section 1 1 (on hostile groups) and, as the leaven of 
anti-Soviet organizations, now went off to Special Camps. So, 
needless to say, did traitors to the Motherland (58- la and lb), 
bourgeois nationalists and separatists (58-2), agents of the interna- 
tional bourgeoisie (58-4), spies (58-6), subversives (58-7), terror- 
ists (58-8), wreckers (58-9), and economic saboteurs (58-14). This 
was also the most convenient place to put those prisoners of war, 
German (in Minlag) or Japanese (in Ozerlag), whom it was in- 
tended to detain beyond 1948. 

On the other hand, noninformers (58-12) and abettors of the 
enemy (58-3) in Corrective Labor Camps remained where they 
were. Whereas prisoners in katorga sentenced specifically for aid- 
ing and abetting the enemy now went to the Special Camps with 
all the rest. 

The wisdom of the separators was even harder to fathom than 
appears from this description. Criteria still unexplained left in the 
Corrective Labor category female traitors serving twenty-five 
years (Unzhlag) and here and there whole Camp Divisions includ- 
ing nothing but 58’s, Vlasovites and ex-Polizei among them. These 
were not Special Camps, the prisoners wore no numbers, but the 
regime was severe (Krasnaya Glinka, on the Samara bend of the 
Volga, the Tuim camp, in the Shirin district of Khakassiya, and 
the Southern Sakhalin camp were examples). These camps were 
so harsh that prisoners would have been no worse off in the Special 

So that the Archipelago, once the Great Partition had been 
carried out, should never again lapse into confusion, it was pro- 
vided from 1949 onward that every newly naturalized immigrant 
from the world outside should have written in his prison book, 
apart from his sentence, a ruling (of the State Security authorities 
and the Prosecutor’s Office in the oblast) as to the type of cage in 
which this particular bird should always be kept. 


Thus, like the seed that dies to produce a plant, Stalin’s katorga 
grew into the Special Camp. 

The red prisoner-transport trains traveled the length and 
breadth of the Motherland and the Archipelago carrying the new 

At Inta they had the sense simply to drive the herd out of one 
gate and in through another. 

Chekhov complained that we had no “legal definition of 
katorga, or of its purpose.” 

But that was in the enlightened nineteenth century! In the mid- 
dle of the twentieth, the cave man’s century, we didn’t even feel 
the need to understand and define. Old Man Stalin had decided 
that it would be so — and that was all the definition necessary. 

We just nodded our heads in understanding. 

Chapter 2 

The First Whiff of Revolution 

Dismayed by die hopeless length of my sentence, stunned by my 
first acquaintance with the world of Gulag, I could never have 
believed at the beginning of my time there that my spirit would 
recover by degrees from its dejection: dial as the years went by, 
I should ascend, so gradually that I was hardly aware of it myself, 
to an invisible peak of the Archipelago, as though it were Mauna 
Loa on Hawaii, and from there gaze serenely over distant islands 
and even feel the lure of the treacherous shimmering sea between. 

The middle part of my sentence I served on a golden isle, where 
prisoners were given enough to eat and drink and kept warm and 
clean, in return for all this not much was required of me: ju$t 
twelve hours a day sitting at a desk and making myself agreeable 
to the bosses. 

But clinging to these good things suddenly became distasteful. 
I was groping for some new way to make sense of prison life. 
Looking around me, I realized now how contemptible was the 
advice of the special-assignment prisoner from Krasnaya Presnya: 
“At all costs steer clear of general duties.”* The price we were 
paying seemed disproportionately high. 

Prison released in me the ability to write, and I now gave all my 
time to this passion, brazenly neglecting my boring office work. 
There was something I had come to value more than the butter 
and sugar they gave me— standing on my own feet again. 

Well, they jerked a few of us to our feet — en route to a Special, 

They took a long time getting us there— three months. (It could 
be done more quickly with horses in the nineteenth century.) So 



long that this journey became, as it were, a distinct period in my 
life, and it even seems to me that my character and outlook 
changed in the course of it. 

The journey was bracing, cheerful, full of good omens. 

A freshening breeze buffeted our faces — the wind of katorga 
and of freedom. People and incidents pressed in on every hand to 
assure us that justice was on our sidel on our sidel on our side! not 
with our judges and jailers. 

The Butyrki, our old home, greeted us with a heartrending 
female shriek from a window — probably that of a solitary-confine- 
ment cell. “Help! Save me! They’re killing me! They’re killing me!” 
Then the cries were choked in a warder's hands. 

At the Butyrki “station” we were mixed up with raw recruits 
of the 1949 intake. They all had funny sentences — not the usual 
tenners, but quarters, Wheii at each of the numerous roll calls they 
had to give dates of release, it sounded like a cruel joke: “October, 
1974!” “February, 1975!” 

No one, surely, could sit out such a sentence. A man must get 
hold of some pliers and cut the wire. 

These twenty-five-year sentences were enough to transform the 
prisoners' world. The holders of power had bombarded us with all 
they had. Now it was the prisoners’ turn to speak — to speak freely, 
uninhibitedly, undeterred by threats, the words we had never 
heard in our lives and which alone could enlighten and unite us. 

We were sitting in a Stolypin car* at the Kazan station when 
we heard from the station loudspeaker that war had broken out 
in Korea. After penetrating a firm South Korean defense line to 
a depth of ten kilometers on the very first day, the North Koreans 
insisted that they had been attacked. Any imbecile who had been 
at the front understood that the aggressors were those who had 
advanced on the first day. 

This war in Korea excited us even more. In our rebellious mood 
we longed for the storm. The storm must break, it must, it must, 
or else we were doomed to a lingering death! . . . 

Somewhere past Ryazan the red rays of the rising sun struck 
with such force through the mole’s-eye windows of the prison car 
that the young guard in the corridor near our grating screwed up 
his eyes. Our guards might have been worse: they had crammed 
us into compartments fifteen or so at a time, they fed us on 
herring, but, to be fair, they also brought us water and let us out 
morning and evening to relieve ourselves, so that we should have 

The First Whiff of Revolution | 39 

had no quarrel with them if this lad hadn’t unthinkingly, not 
maliciously, tossed the words “enemies of the people” at us. 

That started it! Our compartment and the next pitched into 

“All right, we’re enemies of the people — but why is there no 
grub on the kolkhoz?” 

“You’re a country boy yourself by the look of you, but I bet 
you’ll sign on again — I bet you’d sooner be a dog on a chain than 
go back to the plow.” 

“If we’re enemies of the people, why paint the prison vans 
different colors? Who are you hiding us from?” 

“Listen, kid! I had two like you who never came back from the 
war — and you call me an enemy of the people?” 

It was a very long time since words like this had flown through 
the bars of our cages! We shouted only the plainest of facts, too 
self-evident to be refuted. 

A sergeant serving extra time came to the aid of the flustered 
youngster, but instead of hauling anyone off to the cooler, or 
taking names, he tried to help hiis subordinate to fight back. 

Here, too, we saw a faint hint that times were changing — no, 
this was 1950, too soon to speak of better times; what we saw were 
signs of the new relationship between prisoners and jailers created 
by the new long sentences and the new political camps. 

Our argument began to take on the character of a genuine 
debate. The young men took a good look at us, and could no 
longer bring themselves to call us, or those in the next compart- 
ment, enemies of the people. They tried trotting out bits from 
newspapers and from their elementary politics course, but their 
ears told them before their minds could that these set phrases rang 

“Look for yourselves, lads! Look out the window,” was the 
answer they got from us. “Look what you’ve brought Russia down 

Beyond the windows stretched a beggarly land of rotted thatch 
and rickety huts and ragged folk (we were on the Ruzayev line, 
by which foreigners never travel). If the Golden Horde had seen 
it so befouled, they would not have bothered to conquer it 

On the quiet station at Torbeyevo an old man walked along the 
platform in bast shoes. An old peasant woman stopped opposite 
the lowered window of our car and stood rooted to the spot for 
a long time, staring through the outer and inner bars at us prison- 


ers tightly packed together on the top bed shelf. She stared at us 
with that look on her face which our people have kept for “unfor- 
tunates” throughout the ages. A few tears trickled down her 
cheeks. She stood there, work-coarsened and shabby, and she 
looked at us as though a son of hers lay among us. “You mustn’t 
look in there, mamma,” the guard told her, but not roughly. She 
didn’t even turn her head. At her side stood a little girl of ten with 
white ribbons in her plaits. She looked at us very seriously, with 
a sadness strange in one of her years, her little eyes wide and 
unblinking. She looked at us so hard that she must have imprinted 
us on her memory forever. As the train eased forward, the old 
woman raised her blackened fingers and devoutly, unhurriedly 
made the sign of the cross over us. 

Then at another station some girl in a spotted frock, anything 
but shy or timid, came right up to our window and started boldly 
asking us what we were in for and for how long. “Get away,” 
bellowed the guard who was pacing the platform. “Why, what will 
you do? I’m the same as them! Here’s a pack of cigarettes — give 
it to the lads,” and she produced them from her handbag. (We had 
already realized that the girl had done time. So many of them, now 
roaming around free, had received their training on the Ar- 
chipelago!) The deputy guard commander jumped out of the train. 
“Get away! I’ll put you inside!” She stared scornfully at the old 

sweat’s ugly mug. “You go and yourself, you ” 

“Give it to ’em, lads,” she said to encourage us. And made a 
dignified departure. 

So we rode on, and I don’t think the guards felt that they were 
protecting the people from its enemies. On we went, more and 
more inflamed with the conviction that we were right, that all 
Russia was with us, that the time was at hand to abolish this 

At the Kuibyshev Transit Prison, where we sunbathed (i.e., 
loafed) for more than a month, more workers came our way. The 
air was suddenly rent by the sickening, hysterical yells of thieves 
(they even whine in a loathsome shrill way). “Help! Get us out of 
here! The Fascists are beating us! Fascists!” 

Here was something new! “Fascists” beating thieves? It always 
used to be the other way around. 

But shortly after, there was a reshuffle of prisoners, and we 
found that no miracles had happened yet It was only the first 
swallow — Pavel Boronyuk. His chest was a millstone; his gnarled 

The First Whiff of Revolution \ 41 

hands were ever ready for a friendly clasp or a blow; he was dark 
in complexion, aquiline, more like a Georgian than a Ukrainian. 
He had been an officer at the front, had prevailed in a machine-gun 
duel with three “Messerschmitts,” had been recommended for the 
order of Hero of the Soviet Union and turned down by the Special 
Section, had been sent to a punitive battalion and returned with 
a' decoration; and now he had a tenner, which as times now were, 
was hardly a “man’s sentence.” 

He had sized up the thieves while he was still on his way from 
the jail at Novograd-Volynsk and had fought with them before. 
Now he was sitting in the next cell on the upper bed platform, 
quietly playing chess. The whole cell were 58*s, but the adminis- 
tration had slipped two thieves in among them. On his way to clear 
his rightful sleeping space by the window, a Belomor cigarette 
dangling carelessly from his lip, Fiksaty said jokingly, “Might 
have known they’d put me with gangsters again!” The naive Ve- 
liev, who didn’t know much about thieves, hastened to reassure 
him: “No, we’re all 58’s here. What about you?” “I’m an embez- 
zler, I’m an educated man!” The thieves chased two men away, 
slung their own sacks onto their “reserved” places, and walked 
through the cell examining other people’s sacks and looking for 
trouble. The 58’s — no, they hadn’t changed yet; they put up no, 
resistance. Sixty grown men waited tamely for their turn to be 
robbed. There is something hypnotically disarming about the im- 
pudence of thieves, who never for a moment expect to meet resist- 
ance. (Besides, they can always count on the support of authority.) 
Boronyuk went on pretending to move his chessmen, but by now 
he was rolling his eyes in fury and wondering how best to take care 
of them. When one of the thieves stopped in front of him, he 
swung his dangling foot and booted him in his ugly face, then 
jumped down, grabbed the stout wooden lid of the sanitary 
bucket, and brought it down in a stunning blow on the other thief s 
head. Then he began hitting them alternately with the lid until it 
fell to pieces, leaving its base, two solid bars joined crosswise, in 
his hands. The thieves changed their tune to a pathetic whine, but 
it must be admitted that there was a certain humor in their moans, 
that they seemed to see the funny side of it. “What do you think 
you’re doing — hitting people with a cross!” “Just because you’re 
strong you shouldn't bully others!” Boronyuk kept on hitting 
them till one of the thieves rushed to the window shouting, “Help! 
The Fascists are beating us!” 


The thieves never forgot it, and threatened Boronyuk many 
times afterward. “You smell like a dead mart already! We’ll take 
you with us!*' But they never attacked him again. 

Soon afterward our cell also clashed with the bitches.* We were 
out in the yard to stretch our legs, and relieve ourselves while we 
were at it, when a woman prison officer sent a trusty to chase some 
of us out of the latrine. His arrogance (to the “politicals”) out- 
raged Volodya Gershuni, a high-strung youngish man, recently 
sentenced. Volodya pulled the trusty up short, and the trusty 
felled the lad with a blow. Previously the 58’s would simply have 
swallowed this, but now Maxim the Azerbaijani (who had killed 
the chairman of his kolkhoz) threw a stone at the trusty, while 
Boronyuk laid one on his jaw. He slashed Boronyuk with his knife 
(the warders’ assistants went around with knives; there was noth- 
ing unusual in this), and ran to the warders for protection, with 
Boronyuk chasing him. They quickly herded us all into the cell, 
and senior prison officers arrived to discover who was to blame 
and threaten us with additional sentences for gang fighting (the 
MVD man’s heart always bleeds for his nearest and dearest, his 
trusties). Boronyuk's blood was up, and he stepped forward of his 
own accord. “I beat those bastards, and I’ll go on beating them 
as long as I live!” The “godfather”* warned us that we Counter- 
Revolutionaries couldn’t afford to put on airs and that it would 
be safer for us to hold our tongues. At this up jumped Volodya 
Gershuni. He was hardly more than a boy, a first-year university 
student when he was arrested, and not just a namesake but the 
nephew of that Gershuni who once commanded the SR* terrorist 
squad. He screamed at the godfather, as shrill as a fighting cock. 
“Don’t dare call us Counter-Revolutionaries! That’s all in the 
past. We’re re-vo-lu-tion-aries again now! Against the Soviet state 
this time!” 

How we enjoyed ourselves! This was the day we’d lived for! And 
the godfather just frowned and scowled and swallowed it all. 
Nobody was taken off to the lockup, and the prison officers beat 
an inglorious retreat. Was this how life in prison would be from 
now on? Could we then fight? Turn on our tormentors? Say out 
loud just what we thought? All that time we had endured it all like 
idiots! It's fun beating people who weep easily. We wept — so they 
beat us. 

Now, in the legendary new camps to which they were taking us, 
where men wore number patches as in the Nazi camps, but where 

The First Whiff of Revolution | 43 

there would at last be only political prisoners, cleansed of the 
slimy criminal scum, perhaps the new life would begin. Volodya 
Gershuni, with his dark eyes and his peaked, dead-white face, said 
hopefully: “Once we get to the camp we shall soon know with 
whom we belong!” Silly lad) Did he seriously expect to find there 
a vigorous political life, with parties of many different shades 
feverishly contending, discussions, programs, underground meet- 
ings? “With whom we belong!” As though the choice had been left 
to us! As though those who drew up the target figures for arrests 
in each republic, and the bills of lading for camp-transport trains, 
had not decided it for us. 

In our very long cell — once a stable, with two lines of two-tier 
bed platforms where the two rows of mangers used to stand, with 
pillars made of crooked tree trunks along the aisle propping up a 
decrepit roof, with typical stable windows in the long wall, shaped 
so that the hay could be forked straight into the mangers (and 
made narrower by “muzzles”*) — in our cell there were 120 men, 
of all sorts and conditions. More than half of them were from the 
Baltic States, uneducated people, simple peasants: the second 
purge was under way in that area, and all who would not voluntar- 
ily join collective farms, or who were suspected in advance of 
reluctance to join, were being imprisoned or deported. Then there 
were quite a few Western Ukrainians — members of the OUN, 1 
together with anyone who had once given them a night’s rest or 
a meal. Then there were prisoners from the Russian Soviet Federa- 
tion — with fewer new boys among them, most of them “repeat- 
ers.” And, of course, a certain number of foreigners. 

We were all being taken to the same camp complex (we found 
out from the records clerk that it was the Steplag group). I looked 
carefully at those with whom fate had brought me together, and 
tried to see into their minds. 

I found the Estonians and Lithuanians particularly congenial. 
Although I was no better off than they were, they made me feel 
ashamed, as though I were the one who had put them inside. 
Unspoiled, hard-working, true to their word, unassuming — what 
had they done to be ground in the same mill as ourselves? They 
had harmed no one, lived a quiet, orderly life, and a more moral 
life than ours — and now they were to blame because we were 

1. Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. 


hungry, because they lived cheek by jowl with us and stood in our 
path to the sea. 

“I am ashamed to be Russian!” cried Herzen when we were 
choking the life out of Poland. I felt doubly ashamed in the pres- 
ence of these inoffensive and defenseless people. 

My attitude to the Latvians was more complicated. There was 
a fatality in their plight. They had sown the seed themselves.* 

And the Ukrainians? We have long ago stopped saying 
“Ukrainian nationalists”; we speak only of “Banderists,” and this 
has become such a dirty word that no one thinks of inquiring into 
the reality. (We also call them bandits,” following our estab- 
lished rule that anyone, anywhere, who kills for us is a “partisan,” 
whereas those who kill us are always “bandits,” beginning with 
the Tambov peasants* in 1921.) 

The reality is that although long ago in the Kiev period we and 
the Ukrainians constituted a single people, we have since then 
been tom asunder and our lives, our customs, our languages for 
centuries past have taken widely different paths. The-eo-called 
“re-union” was a very awkward though perhaps in some minds a 
sincere attempt to restore our former brotherhood. But we have 
not made good use of the three centuries since. No statesman in 
Russia ever gave much thought to the problem of binding the 
Ukrainians and Russians together in kinship, of smoothing out the 
lumpy seam. (Had the join been neater, the first Ukrainian Com- 
mittees would not have been formed in spring, 1917, nor the Rada 
later on.) 

The Bolsheviks before they came to power found the prob- 
lem uncomplicated. In Pravda for June 7, 1917, Lenin wrote 
as follows: “We regard the Ukraine and other regions not in- 
habited by Great Russians as territories annexed by the Tsar 
and the capitalists.” He wrote this when the Central Rada was 
already in existence. Then on November 2, 1917, the “Declara- 
tion of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia” was adopted. Was 
it just meant as a joke? Was it just a trick when they declared 
that the peoples of Russia did indeed have the right of self- 
determination, up to and including secession? Six months later 
the Soviet government requested the good offices of the Kai- 
ser’s Germany in helping Soviet Russia to conclude peace and 
define its boundaries with the Ukraine, and Lenin signed a 
treaty to this effect with Hetman Skoropadsky on June 14, 
1918. By doing so he showed himself fully reconciled to the 

The First Whiff of Revolution | 45 

detachment of the Ukraine — even if it became a monarchy as a 

But strangely enough, as soon as the Germans were defeated by 
the Entente (which could not affect in the least the principles 
governing our relations with the Ukraine), as soon as the Hetman 
had fallen, together with his patrons, as soon as we proved 
stronger than Petlyura (there’s another word of abuse, “Petlyuro- 
vite”: but these were merely Ukrainian townsfolk and peasants, 
who wanted to order their lives without our interference), we 
immediately crossed the border which we had recognized and 
imposed our rule on our blood brothers. True, for fifteen to twenty 
years afterward we made great play with the Ukrainian language, 
pushed it perhaps too hard, and impressed it on our brothers that 
they were completely independent and could break away when- 
ever they pleased. Yet when they tried to do so at the end of the 
war we denounced them as “Banderists,” and started hunting 
them down, torturing them, executing them, or dispatching them 
to the camps. (But “Banderists,” like “Petlyurovites,” are just 
Ukrainians who do not want to be ruled by others; once they 
discovered that Hitler would not bring them the freedom they had 
been promised, they fought against the Germans, as well as our- 
selves, throughout the war, but we kept quiet about this, since like 
the Warsaw rising of 1944 it shows us in an unfavorable light.) 

Why are we so exasperated by Ukrainian nationalism, by the 
desire of our brothers to speak, educate their children, and write 
their shop signs in their own language? Even Mikhail Bulgakov 
(in The White Guard) let himself be misled on this subject. Given 
that we have not succeeded in fusing completely; that we are still 
different in some respects (and it is sufficient that they, the smaller 
nation, feel the difference); that however sad it may be, we have 
missed chance after chance, especially in the thirties and forties; 
that the problem became most acute not under the Tsar, but after 
the Tsar — why does their desire to secede annoy us so much? 
Can’t we part with the Odessa beaches? Or the fruit of Circassia? 

For me this is a painful subject. Russia and the Ukraine are 
united in my blood, my heart, my thoughts. But from friendly 
contact with Ukrainians in the camps over a long period I have 
learned how sore they feel. Our generation cannot avoid paying 
for the mistakes of generations before it. 

Nothing is easier than stamping your foot and shouting: < That’s 
mine!” It is immeasurably harder to proclaim: “You may live as 


you please.** We cannot, in the latter end of the twentieth century, 
live in the imaginary world in which our last, not very bright 
Emperor came to grief. Surprising though it may be, the prophecy 
of our Vanguard Doctrine* that nationalism would fade has not 
come true. In the age of the atom and of cybernetics, it has for 
some reason blossomed afresh. Like it or not, the time is at hand 
when we must pay out on all our promissory notes guaranteeing 
self-determination and independence — pay up of our own accord, 
and not wait to be burned at the stake, drowned in rivers, or 
beheaded. We must prove our greatness as a nation not by the 
vastness of our territory, not by the number of peoples under our 
tutelage, but by the grandeur of our actions. And by the depth of 
our tilth in the lands that remain when those who do not wish to 
live with us are gone. 

The Ukraine will be an extremely painful problem. But we must 
realize that the feelings of the whole people are now at white heat. 
Since the two peoples have not succeeded over the centuries in 
living harmoniously, it is up to us to show sense. We must leave 
the decision to the Ukrainians themselves — let federalists and 
separatists try their persuasions. Not to give way would be fool- 
hardy and cruel. And the gentler, the more tolerant, the more 
careful to explain ourselves we are now, the more hope there will 
be of restoring unity in the future. 

Let them live their own lives, let them see how it works. They 
will soon find that not all problems are solved by secession . 2 

For some reason the cell in the converted stables was our home 
for a long time, and it looked as though they would never send us 
on to Steplag. Not that we were in any hurry; we enjoyed life 
where we were, and the next place could only be worse. 

We were not left without news — they brought us daily a sort of 
half-sized newspaper. I sometimes had the task of reading it aloud 
to the whole cell, and I read it with expression, for there were 
things there which demanded it. 

The tenth anniversary of the “liberation** of Estonia, Latvia, 

2. The fact that the ratio between those who consider themselves Russian and those who 
consider themselves Ukrainian varies from province to province of the Ukraine will cause 
many complications. A plebiscite in each province, and afterward a helpful and considerate 
attitude to those who wish to move, may be necessary. Not all of the Ukraine in its present 
official Soviet borders is really Ukrainian. Some of the left-bank provinces undoubtedly feel 
drawn to Russia. 

The First Whiff of Revolution | 47 

and Lithuania came around just at this time. Some of those who 
understood Russian translated for the rest (I paused for them to 
do so), and what can only be called a howl went up from the bed 
platforms as they* heard about the freedom and prosperity intro- 
duced into their countries for the first time in history. Each of 
these Balts (and a good third of all those in the transit prison, were 
Balts) had left behind a ruined home, and was lucky if his family 
was still there and not on its way to Siberia with another batch 
of prisoners. 

But what of course most excited the transit prison were the 
reports from Korea. Stalin’s blitzkrieg had miscarried. The United 
Nations volunteers had by now been assembled. We saw in Korea 
the precursor, the Spain, of the Third World War. (And Stalin 
probably intended it as a rehearsal.) Those U.N. soldiers were a 
special inspiration to us. What a flag to fight under! Whom would 
it not unite? Here was a prototype of the united mankind of the 
future! — 

We were wretched, and we could not rise above our wretched- 
ness. Should this have been our dream — to perish so that those 
who looked unmoved on our destruction might survive? We could 
not accept it. No, we longed for the storm! 

Some will be surprised. — What a desperate, what a cynical 
state of mind. Had you no thought for the hardships war would 
bring to those outside? — Well, the free never spared us a thought! 
— You mean, then, that you were capable of wishing for a world 
war? — When all those people were given sentences in 1950 lasting 
till the mid-1970s, what hope were they left with except that of 
world war? 

I am appalled myself when I remember now the false and 
baneful hopes we cherished at the time. General nuclear destruc- 
tion was no way out for anyone. And leaving aside the nuclear 
danger, a state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic 
tyranny and reinforces it. But my story will be distorted if I do 
not tell the truth about our feelings that summer. 

Romain Rolland’s generation in their youth were depressed by 
the constant expectation of war, but our generation of prisoners 
was depressed by its absence — and not to say so would be to tell 
less than the truth about the spirit of the Special Political Camps. 
This was what they had driven us to. World war might bring us 
either a speedier death (they might open fire from the watchtow- 
ers, poison our bread, or infect us with germs, German fashion), 


or it just might bring freedom. In either case, deliverance would 
be much nearer than the end of a twenty-five-year sentence. 

This was what Petya P v counted on. Among those in our 

cell Petya P v was the last living soul to arrive from Europe. 

Immediately after the war, cells everywhere were packed with 
these Russkies returning from Europe. But the first arrivals were 
long ago in camps or in the ground, and the rest had vowed to stay 
away. Where, then, had Petya sprung from? He had come home 
of his own free will in November, 1949, when normal people were 
no longer returning. 

The war had overtaken him just outside Kharkov, where he 
attended an industrial school in which he had been compulsorily 
enrolled. Just as unceremoniously the Germans carried these 
young lads off to Germany. There he remained as an “Ost- 
Arbeiter” to the end of the war, and there his philosophy of life 
was formed: a man must find an easy way of living, not work as 
he had been made to work from infancy. In the West, taking 
advantage of European credulity and lax frontier controls, he had 
smuggled French vehicles into Italy and Italian vehicles into 
France and sold them off cheaply. The French, however, had 
tracked him down and arrested him. He then wrote to the Soviet 
Embassy, saying that he wanted to return to his beloved Father- 

land. P v’s reasoning was that in France he might get ten 

years, but would have to serve his sentence in full, whereas in the 
Soviet Union he would get twenty-five as a traitor — but then, the 
first drops of the coming storm, the Third World War, were 
already falling; the Union, he thought, wouldn’t last even three 
years, so it would pay him to go to a Soviet prison. Instant friends 
arrived from the embassy and clasped Petya P v to their bos- 

oms. The French authorities were glad to hand over a thief. 3 Some 
thirty others just like Petya were assembled in the embassy. They 
were given a comfortable sea passage to Murmansk, let loose to 
wander freely about the town, and picked up again one by one in 
the course of the next twenty-four hours. 

For his cellmates Petya now took the place of Western 
newspapers (he had followed the Kravchenko trial in detail), 
Western theatre (he skillfully performed Western tunes with 

3. French statistics are said to show that between the First and Second World Wars the 
crime rate was lower among Russian &nigr& than among any other ethnic group. After 
the Second World War the opposite was the case: of all the ethnic groups, the Russians 
— Soviet citizens who had fetched up in France — had the highest crime rate. 

The First Whiff of Revolution | 49 

his cheeks and lips), and Western films (he told us the stones 
and mimed the action). 

How free and easy things were in the Kuibyshev Transit Prison! 
The inmates of different cells occasionally met in the common 
yard. From under the muzzles we could exchange remarks with 
other transports as they were driven across the yard. On our way 
to the latrine we could approach the open windows (which were 
barred but unscreened) of the family barracks, where women with 
several children were held. (They, too, were on their way into exile 
from the Baltic States and the Western Ukraine.) And between the 
two converted stables there was a crack, known as the “tele- 
phone,” where interested persons lay on either side of the wall 
discussing the news from morning to night. 

All these freedoms excited us still more; we felt the ground 
firmer under our own feet and imagined that it was becoming 
uncomfortably warm under the feet of our jailers. When we 
walked about the yard we raised our faces to the sun-bleached July 
sky. We should not have been surprised, and not at all alarmed, 
if a V formation of foreign bombers had emerged from nowhere. 
Life as it was meant nothing to us. 

Prisoners traveling in the other direction from the Karabas 
Transit Prison brought rumors of notices stuck on walls: “We 
won’t take any more!” We worked ourselves up to white heat, and 
one sultry night in Omsk when we were being crammed and 
screwed into a prison van, like lumps of sweating, steaming meat 
through a mincer, we yelled out of the depths at our warders: 
“Just wait, you vermin! Truman will see you off! They’ll drop the 
atom bomb on your heads!” And the cowards said nothing. They 
were uneasily aware that our resistance was growing stronger and 
— so we sensed — that justice was more and more clearly on our 
side. We were so sick with longing for justice that we should not 
have minded if we and our tormentors were incinerated by the 
same bomb. We were in that final stage at which there is nothing 
to lose. 

If this is not brought into the open, the full story of the Ar- 
chipelago in the fifties will not have been told. 

The prison at Omsk, which had known Dostoyevsky, was not 
like any old Gulag transit prison, hastily knocked together from 
matchwood. It was a formidable jail from the time of Catherine 
n, and its dungeons were particularly terrible. You could never 
imagine a better film set than one of its underground cells. The 


small square window is at the top of an oblique shaft up to ground 
level. The depth of this opening — three meters — tells you what the 
walls are like. The cell has no ceiling, but massive, menacing 
vaults converge overhead. One wall is wet — water seeps through 
from the soil and leaks onto the floor. In the morning and in the 
evening it is dark, on the brightest afternoon half-dark. There are 
no rats, but you fancy that you can smell them. Although the 
vaulted roof dips so low that you can touch it in places, the jailers 
have contrived to erect two-tier bed platforms even here, with the 
lower level barely raised above the floor, ankle high. 

You might think that this jail would stifle the vague mutinous 
anticipations which had grown in us in the slack Kuibyshev Tran- 
sit Prison. But no! In the evening, by the light of a 15-watt bulb, 
no brighter than a candle, Drozdov, the bald, sharp-featured 
churchwarden of the cathedral church at Odessa, takes his stand 
near the mouth of the window shaft, and in a voice that is weak 
yet full of feeling, the voice of a man whose life is ending, sings 
an old revolutionary song. 

Black as the conscience of tyrant or traitor, 

The shades of the autumn night fall. 

Blacker than night, looming out of the darkness, 

Ghostlike— the grim prison wall 

He sings only for us, but in this place if you shouted aloud no 
one would hear. As he sings, his prominent Adam’s apple runs up 
and down under the withered brown skin of his neck. He sings and 
shudders, he remembers, lets decades of Russian life flow through 
him, and we shudder in sympathy. 

Though all’s silent within, it’s a jail, not a graveyard — 

Sentry, ah, sentry, beware! 

A song like that in a prison like that! 4 Not a false note, not a 
false word! Every note, every word in tune with what awaited our 
generation of prisoners. 

Then we settle down to sleep in the yellow gloom, the cold, the 
damp. Right, who’s going to tell us a story? 

A voice is heard — that of Ivan Alekseyevich Spassky, a sort of 
composite voice of all Dostoyevsky’s heroes. A voice that falters, 

4. It is a great pity that Shostakovich did not hear this song in that place. Either he 
wouldn’t have touched it or he would have expressed its modern instead of its dead 

The First Whiff of Revolution | 51 

chokes, is never calm, seems about to break at any moment into 
weeping or a cry of pain. The most primitive tale by Breshko- 
Breshkovsky, 'The Red Madonna," for instance, retold in such a 
voice, charged with faith, with suffering, with hatred, sounds like 
the Chanson de Roland. Whether it is true or pure fiction, the 
story of Victor Voronin, of how he raced 150 kilometers on foot 
to Toledo, and how the siege of Alcazar was raised, etches itself 
on our memories like an epic. 

Spassky’s own life would make a better novel than many. In his 
youth he took part in the Campaign on the Ice.* He fought 
throughout the Civil War. He emigrated to Italy. He graduated 
from a Russian ballet school abroad (Karsavina’s, I think), and 
also learned cabinetmaking in the household of some Russian 
countess. (Later on, in the camps, he amazed us by making himself 
some miniature tools and fashioning for the bosses furniture of 
such exquisite workmanship, with such elegantly curving lines, 
that they were left speechless. True, it took him a month to make 
a little table.) He toured Europe with the ballet. He was a news 
cameraman for an Italian company during the Spanish Civil War. 
Under the slightly disguised name of Giovanni Paschi, he became 
a major commanding a battalion in the Italian army and in sum- 
mer, 1942, arrived back on the Don. His battalion was promptly 
surrounded though the Russians were still retreating almost 
everywhere. Left to himself, Spassky would have fought to the 
death, but the Italians, mere boys, started weeping — they wanted 
to live! After some hesitation Major Paschi hung out the white 
flag. He could have committed suicide, but by now he was itching 
to take a look at some Soviet Russians. He might have gone 
through an ordinary prisoner-of-war camp and been back in Italy 
within four years, but his Russian soul was impatient of restraint 
and he got into conversation with the officers who had captured 
him. A fatal mistake! If you are unlucky enough to be Russian, 
conceal the fact like a shameful disease, or it will go hard with you! 
First they kept him for a year in the Lubyanka. Then for three 
years in the International Camp at Kharkov. (There was such a 
place — full of Spaniards, Italians, Japanese.) Then without taking 
into account the four years he had already served, they doled out 
another twenty-five. Twenty-five — what a hope! He was doomed 
to a speedy end in katorga. 

The jails at Omsk, and then at Pavlodar, took us in because — 
and this Was a serious oversight! — there was no specialized transit 


prison in either city. Indeed, in Pavlodar — what a disgrace! — there 
v wasn’t even a prison van and they marched us briskly from the 
station to the jail, many blocks away, without worrying about the 
local population— just like before the Revolution, or in the first 
decade after. In the parts of town we went through there were still 
neither pavements nor piped water, and the little one-story houses 
were sinking into the gray sand. The city proper began with the 
two-story white stone jail. 

But by twentieth-century standards this was a jail to soothe 
rather than horrify, to inspire laughter rather than terror. A spa- 
cious, peaceful yard, with wretched grass growing here and there, 
divided by reassuringly low fences into little squares for exercise. 
There were widely spaced bars across the ceil windows on the 
second floor, and no muzzles, so that you could stand on the 
window sill and examine the neighborhood. Directly below, under 
your feet, between the wall of the building and the outer prison 
wall, an enormous dog would run across the yard dragging his 
chain when something disturbed him, and give a couple of gruff 
barks. But he, too, was not abit like a prison dog— not a terrifying 
German shepherd trained to attack people, but a shaggy yellow- 
white mongrel (they breed dogs like that in Kazakhstan), and 
already pretty old by the look of him. He was like one of those 
good-natured elderly wardens transferred to the camps from the 
army, who thought prison service a dog’s life, and did not care 
who knew it 

Beyond the prison wall we could see a street a beer stall, and 
people walking or standing there — people who had come to hand 
in parcels for the prisoners and were waiting to get their boxes and 
wrapping paper back. Farther on there were blocks and blocks of 
one-story houses, the great bend of the Irtysh and open country 
vanishing beyond the river into the distance. 

A lively girl, who had just got back from the guardhouse with 
her empty basket, looked up and saw us waving to her from the 
window, but pretended not to notice. She walked unhurriedly, 
demurely past the beer stall, until she could not be seen from the 
guardhouse, and there her whole manner changed abruptly: she 
dropped the basket, frantically waved both arms in the air, and 
smiled at us. Then she signaled with nimble fingers: “Write notes!” 
then (an elliptical sweep of the arm): ’Throw them to me, throw 
them to me!” then (pointing in the direction of the town): “I'll take 
them and pass them on for you.” Then she opened both arms wide: 

The First Whiff of Revolution | 53 

“What else do you need? What can I do for you? I’m a friend!” 

Her behavior was so natural and straightforward, so unlike that 
of the harassed and hag-ridden “free population,” our bullied and 
baffled free citizens. What could it mean? Were times changing? 
Or was this just Kazakhstan? Where half the population, remem- 
ber, were exiles . . . 

Sweet, fearless girl! How quickly and accurately you had 
learned the prison-gate skills! How happy it made me (and I felt 
a tear in my eye) to know that there are still people like you! 
Accept our homage, whoever you are! If our people had all been 
like you there would have been not a hope in hell of imprisoning 

The infamous machine would have jammed) 

We had, of course, bits of pencil lead in our jackets. And scraps 
of paper. And it would have been easy to pick off a lump of plaster, 
tie a note to it with thread, and throw it clear of the wall. But there 
was absolutely nothing we could ask her to do for us in Pavlodar! 
So we simply bowed to her and waved our greetings. 

We were driven into the desert Even the unprepossessing over- 
grown village of Pavlodar we should soon remember as a glittering 

We were now taken over by an escort party from Steplag (but 
not, fortunately, from the Dzhezkazgan Camp Division: through- 
out the journey we had kept our fingers crossed that we would not 
end up in the copper mines). The trucks sent to collect us had 
built-up sides and grilles were attached to the rear of their cabs, 
to protect the Tommy-gunners from us as though we were wild 
animals. They packed us in tightly, facing backward, with our legs 
twisted under us, and in this position jogged and jolted us over the 
potholes for eight hours on end. The Tommy-gunners sat on the 
roof of the cab, with the muzzles of their guns trained on our backs 
throughout the journey. 

Up front rode lieutenants and sergeants, and in the cab of our 
truck there was an officer’s wife with a little girl of six. When we 
stopped the little girl would jump down and run through the grass 
picking flowers and calling in a clear voice to her mother. She was 
not in the least put out by the Tommy guns, the dogs, the ugly 
shaven heads of the prisoners sticking up over the sides of the 
lorries; our strange world cast no shadow on the meadow and the 
flowers, and she didn't even spare us a curious glance. ... I 
remembered the son of a sergeant major at the Special Prison in 


Zagorsk. His favorite game was making two other little boys, the 
sons of neighbors, clasp their hands behind their backs (sometimes 
he tied their hands) and walk along the road while he walked 
alongside with a stick, escorting them. 

As the fathers live, so the children play. 

We crossed the Irtysh. We rode for a long time through water 
meadows, then over dead flat steppe. The breath of the Irtysh, the 
freshness of evening on the steppe, the scent of wormwood, en- 
veloped us whenever we stopped for a few minutes and the swirl- 
ing clouds of light-gray dust raised by the wheels sank to the 
ground. Thickly powdered with this dust, we looked at the road 
behind us (we were not allowed to turn our heads), kept silent (we 
were not allowed to talk), and thought about our destiny, the 
camp with the strange, difficult, un-Russian name. We had read 
the name on our case files, hanging upside down from the top shelf 
in the Stolypin — ekibastuz. But nobody could imagine where it 
was on the map, and only Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Ivanov remem- 
bered that it was a coal-mining area. We even supposed that it 
might be somewhere quite close to the Chinese border (and this 
made some of us happy, since they had yet to learn that China was 
even worse than our own country). Captain Second Class Bur- 
kovsky (a new boy and a 25-er, he still looked askance at us, 
because he was a Communist imprisoned in error, while all around 
were enemies of the people: he acknowledged me only because I 
was a former Soviet officer and had not been a prisoner of war) 
reminded me of something I had learned at the university and 
forgotten: if we traced a meridian line on the ground at the autum- 
nal equinox and subtracted the meridional altitude of the sun on 
September 23 from 90, we should find our latitude. This was 
reassuring — although there was no way of discovering our longi- 

On and on they drove. Darkness fell. The stars were big in the 
black sky and we saw clearly now that we were being carried 

Dust danced in the beams of headlights behind us. Patches of 
the dust cloud whipped up over the whole road, but were visible 
only where the headlights picked them out. A strange mirage rose 
before me: the world was a heaving sea of blackness, except for 
those whirling luminous particles forming sinister pictures of 
things to come. 

To what far comer of the earth, what godforsaken hole, were 

The First Whiff of Revolution | 55 

they taking us? Where were we fated to make our revolution? 

Our legs, doubled under us, became so numb that they might 
not have been ours. It was very near midnight when we reached 
a camp surrounded by a high wooden fence and — out in the dark 
steppe, beside a dark sleeping settlement — bright with electric 
light, in the guardhouse and around the boundary fence. 

After another roll call with full particulars — “March, nineteen 
hundred and seventy-five!” — they led us through the towering 
double gates for what was left of our quarter-century. 

The camp was asleep, but all the windows of all the huts were 
brightly lit, as though the tide of life was running high. Lights on 
at night — that meant prison rules. The doors of the huts were 
fastened from outside by heavy padlocks. Bars stood out black 
against the brightly lit rectangles of the windows. 

The orderly who came out to meet us had number patches stuck 
all over him. 

You've read in the newspapers that in Nazi camps people had 
numbers sewn on their clothes, haven't you? 

Chapter 3 


Chains, Chains . . . 

Our eager hopes, our leaping expectations, were soon 
crushed. The wind of change was blowing only in drafty corri- 
dors— in the transit prisons. Here, behind the tall fences of the 
Special Camps, its breath did not reach us. And although 
there were only political prisoners in these camps, no mutinous 
leaflets hung on posts. 

They say that at Minlag the blacksmiths refused to forge bars 
for hut windows. All glory to those as yet nameless heroes! They 
were real people. They were put in the camp jail, and the bars for 
Minlag were forged at Kotlas. No one supported the smiths. 

The Special Camps began with that uncomplaining, indeed 
eager submission to which prisoners had been trained by three 
generations of Corrective Labor Camps. 

Prisoners brought in from the Polar North had no cause to be 
grateful for the Kazakh sunshine. At Novorudnoye station they 
jumped down from the red boxcars onto ground no less red. This 
was the famous Dzhezkazgan copper, and the lungs of those who 
mined it never held out more than four months. There and then 
the warders joyfully demonstrated their new weapon on the first 
prisoners to step out of line: handcuffs, which had not been used 
in the Corrective Labor Camps, gleaming nickel handcuffs, which 
went into mass production in the Soviet Union to mark the thirti- 
eth anniversary of the October Revolution. (Somewhere there was 
a factory in which workers with graying mustaches, the model 
proletarians of Soviet literature, were making them — unless we 
suppose that Stalin and Beria did it themselves?) These handcuffs 
were remarkable in that they could be clamped on very tight. 


Chains , Chains ... | 57 

Serrated metal plates were let into than, so that when a camp 
guard banged a man’s handcuffed wrists against his knee, more of 
the teeth would slip into the lock, causing the prisoner greater 
pain. In this way the handcuffs became an instrument of torture 
instead of a mere device to inhibit activity: they crushed the wrists, 
causing constant acute pain, and prisoners were kept like that for 
hours, always with their hands behind their backs, palms outward. 
The warders also perfected the practice of trapping four fingers in 
the handcuffs, which caused acute pain in the finger joints. 

In Berlag the handcuffs were used religiously: for every trifle, 
even for failure to take off your cap to a warder, they put on the 
handcuffs (hands behind the back) and stood you by the guard- 
house. The hands became swollen and numb, and grown men 
wept: “I won’t do it again, sir! Please take the cuffs off!” (Won- 
drous were the ways of Berlag: not only did prisoners enter the 
mess hall on command, they lined up at the tables on command, 
sat down on command, lowered their spoons into the gruel on 
command, rose and left the room on command.) 

It was easy enough for someone to scribble the order: “Es- 
tablish Special Camps! Submit draft regulations by such and 
such a date!” But somewhere hard-working penologists (and 
psychologists, and connoisseurs of camp life) had to think out 
the details: How could screws already galling be made yet 
tighter? How could burdens already backbreaking be made yet 
heavier? How could the lives of Gulag’s denizens, already far 
from easy, be made harder yet? Transferred from Corrective 
Labor Camps to Special Camps, these animals must be aware 
at once of their strictness and harshness — but obviously some- 
one must first devise a detailed program! 

Naturally, the security measures were strengthened. In all Spe- 
cial Camps the perimeter was reinforced, additional strands of 
barbed wire were strung up, and coils of barbed wire were scat- 
tered about the camp’s fringe area. On the path by which prisoners 
went to work, machine guns were set up in readiness at all main 
crossroads and turnings, and gunners crouched behind them. 

Every Camp Division had its stone jailhouse — its Disciplinary 
Barracks (BUR). 1 Anyone put in the Disciplinary Barracks invari- 

1. I shall continue to call it by this name, which prisoners remembered from the 
Corrective Labor Camps and went on using out of habit, although it is not quite accurate 
in this context: it was the camp jail, neither more nor less. 


ably had his padded jacket taken from him: torture by cold was 
an important feature of the BUR. But every hut was just as much 
a jail, since all windows were barred, and latrine buckets were 
brought in for the night so that all doors could be locked. More- 
over, there were one or two Disciplinary Barracks in each camp 
area, with intensified security, each a separate camplet within the 
camp; these were locked as soon as the prisoners got in from work 
— on the model of the earlier katorga. (They were BUR’s really, 
but we called them “rezhimki.”) 

Then again, they quite blatantly borrowed from the Nazis a 
practice which had proved valuable to them — the substitution of 
a number for the prisoner’s name, his “I,” his human individual- 
ity, so that the difference between one man and another was a digit 
more or less in an otherwise identical row of figures. This measure, 
too, could be a great hardship, provided it was implemented con- 
sistently and fully. This they tried to do. Every new recruit, when 
he “played the piano” in the Special Section (i.e., had his finger- 
prints taken, as was the practice in ordinary prisons, but not in 
Corrective Labor Camps), had to hang around his neck a board 
suspended from a rope. His number — Shch 262 will do as an 
example — was set up on the board (in Ozerlag by now there were 
even numbers beginning with yery:* the alphabet was too short!) 
and in this guise he had his picture taken by the Special Section’s 
photographer. (All those photographs are still preserved some- 
where! One of these days we shall see them!) 

They took the board from around the prisoner’s neck (he wasn’t 
a dog, after all) and gave him instead four (or in some camps three) 
white patches measuring 8 centimeters by 15. These he had to sew 
onto his clothes, usually on the back, the breast, above the peak 
of his cap, and on one leg or arm (Plate No. 2) — but the regula- 
tions varied slightly from camp to camp. -Quilted clothing was 
deliberately damaged in stipulated places before the patches were 
sewn on: in the camp workshops a separate team of tailors was 
detailed to damage new clothing: squares of fabric were cut out 
to expose the wadding underneath. This was done so that prison- 
ers trying to escape could not unpick their number patches and 
pass as free workmen. In some other camps it was simpler still: 
the number was burned into the garments with bleaching fluid. 

Warders were ordered to address prisoners by their numbers 
only, and to ignore and forget their names. It would have been 
pretty unpleasant if they had kept it up — but they couldn’t. Rus- 

Chains, Chains ... | 59 

sians aren’t Germans. Even in the first year warders occasionally 
slipped up and called people by their names, and as time went by 
they did it more often. To make things easier for the warders, a 
plywood shingle was nailed onto each bunk, at every level, with 
the occupant’s number on it. Thus the warder could call out the 
sleeper’s number even when he could not see it on his garments, 
and if a man was missing the warder would know at once who was 
breaking the rulefc. Another useful field of activity opened up for 
warders: they could quietly turn the key in the lock and tiptoe into 
the hut before getting-up time, to take the numbers of those who 
had risen too soon, or they could burst into the hut exactly on time 
and take the numbers of those who were not yet up. In both cases 
you could be summarily awarded a spell in the hole, but in the 
Special Camp it was usually thought better to demand a written 
explanation — although pens and ink were forbidden and no paper 
was supplied. This tedious, long-winded, offensive procedure was 
rather a clever invention, especially as the camp administration 
had plenty of salaried idlers with leisure to scrutinize the explana- 
tions. Instead of simply punishing you out of hand, they required 
you to explain in writing why your bed was untidy, why the 
number plate at your bunk was askew and why you had done 
nothing about it, why a number patch on your jacket was soiled 
and why you had not put that right; why a cigarette had been 
found on you in the hut; why you had not taken your cap off to 
a warder. 2 Questions so profound that writing answers to them 
was even more of a torment to the literate than to the illiterate. 
But refusal to write meant that your punishment would be more 
severe! The note was written, with the neatness and precision 
which respect for the disciplinary staff demanded, delivered to the 
warder in charge of the hut, then examined by the assistant disci- 
plinary officer or the disciplinary officer, who in turn wrote on it 
his decision about punishment 
In work rolls, too, it was the rule to write numbers before 
names. Why before and not instead of names? They were afraid 
to give up names altogether! However you look at it, a name is a 
reliable handle, a man is pegged to his name forever, whereas a 
number is blown away at a puff. If only the numbers were branded 
or picked out on the man himself, that would be something! But 

2. Doroshevich was surprised to find prisonsers taking their caps off to the prison 
governor on Sakhalin. But we had to uncover whenever we met an ordinary warder. 


they never got around to it. Though they might easily have done 
so; they came close enough. 

The oppressive number system tended to break down for yet 
another reason — because we were not in solitary confinement, 
because we heard each other’s voices and not just those of the 
warders. The prisoners themselves not only did not use each 
other's numbers, they did not even notice them. (How, you may 
wonder, could anyone fail to notice those glaring white patches on 
a black background? When a lot of us were assembled — on work 
line-up, or for inspection — the bewildering array of figures gave 
you spots before your eyes. It was like staring at a logarithm table 
— but only while it was new to you.) So little did you notice them 
that you did not even know the numbers of your closest friends 
and teammates; your own was the only one you remembered. 
(Some dandified trusties carefully saw to it that their numbers 
were neatly, even jauntily, sewn on, with the edges tucked in, with 
minute stitching, to make them really pretty. Lackeys bom and 
bred! My friends and I, on the contrary, took care that our num- 
bers should look as ugly as possible.) 

The Special Camp regime assumed a total lack of publicity, 
assumed that no one would ever complain, no one would ever be 
released, no one would ever break out. (Neither Auschwitz nor 
Katyn had taught our bosses anything.) And so the first Special 
Camps were Special Camps with truncheons. It was, as a rule, not 
the warders who carried them (they had the handcuffs!), but 
trusted prisoners — hut orderlies and foremen; they, however, 
could beat us to their hearts’ content, with the full approval of 
authority. At Dzhezkazgan before work line-up the work assign- 
ee stood by the doors of the huts with clubs and shouted: “Out 
you come — and no last man! T* (The reader will have understood 
that if there should be a last man, it was immediately as though 
he had never been .) 3 For the same reason, the authorities were not 
greatly upset if, for instance, a winter transport from Karbas to 
Spassk — two hundred men — froze on the way, if all the wards and 
corridors of the Medical Section were packed with the survivors, 
rotting alive with a sickening stench, and Dr. Kolesnikov am- 
putated dozens of arms, legs, and noses . 4 The wall of silence was 

3. In Spassk in 1949 something snapped. The foremen were called to the staff hut, 
ordered to put away their clubs, and advised to do without them in future 

4. This Dr. Kolesnikov was one of the “experts** who had shortly before signed the 
mendacious findings of the Katyn commission (to the effect that it was not we who had 

Chains, Chains . | 61 

so reliable that the celebrated disciplinary officer at Spassk, Cap- 
tain Vorobyov, and his underlings first “punished” an imprisoned 
Hungarian ballerina by putting her in the black hole, then hand- 
cuffed her, then, while she was handcuffed, raped her. 

The disciplinary regime envisaged patient attention to every 
detail. Thus prisoners were not allowed to keep photographs — 
either of themselves (which might help escapers!) or of their rela- 
tives. Should any be found they were confiscated and destroyed. 
A barracks representative in the women’s division at Spassk, an 
elderly schoolteacher, put a small picture of Tchaikovsky on a 
table. The warder removed it and gave her three days in the black 
hole. “But it’s a picture of Tchaikovsky!” “I don’t care whose 
picture it is; in this camp women aren’t allowed to h£ve pictures 
of men.” In Kengir prisoners were allowed to receive meal in their 
food parcels (why not?), but there was a rigorous prohibition 
against boiling it, and if a prisoner managed to make a fire between 
a couple of bricks the warder would kick over the pot and make 
the culprit smother the flames with his hands. (Later on, it is true, 
they built a little shed for cooking, but two months later the stove 
was demolished and the place was used to accommodate some pigs 
belonging to the officers, and security officer Belyaev’s horse.) 

While they were introducing various disciplinary novelties, our 
masters did not forget what was best in the practice of the Correc- 
tive Labor Camps. In Ozerlag Captain Mishin, head of a Camp 
Division, tied recalcitrants behind a sleigh and towed them to 

By and large, the regime proved so satisfactory that prisoners 
from the former political camps (katorga) were now kept in the 
Special Camps on the same footing as the rest and in die same 
quarters, distinguished only by the serial letters on their number 
patches. (Though if there was a shortage of huts, as at Spassk, it 
was they who would be put to live in bams and stables.) 

So that the Special Camp, though not officially called katorga, 
was its legitimate successor and merged with it. 

For a prison regime to have a satisfactory effect on the prison- 
ers, it must be grounded also on sound rules about work and diet. 

The work chosen for the Special Camps was always the hardest 

murdered the Polish officers). For this a just Providence had put him in this camp. But 
why did the powers of this world want him there? So that he would not talk too much. 
“Othello’s occupation’s gone.” 


in the locality. As Chekhov has truly remarked: “The established 
view of society, and with some qualifications of literature, is that 
no harder and more degrading form of hard labor can be found 
than that in the mines. If in Nekrasov’s Russian Women the hero’s 
job had been to catch fish for the jail or to fell trees, many readers 
would have felt unsatisfied.’’ (Why speak so disparagingly of tree 
felling, Anton Pavlovich? Lumbering is not so bad; it will do the 
trick.) The first divisions of Steplag, those it began with, were all 
engaged in copper mining (the First and Second Divisions at 
Rudnik, the Third at Kengir, and the Fourth at Dzhezkazgan). 
They drilled dry, and the dust from the waste rock quickly 
brought on silicosis and tuberculosis. 3 Sick prisoners were sent to 
die in the celebrated Spassk camp (near Karaganda) — the “All- 
Union convalescent home’’ of the Special Camps. 

Spassk deserves a special mention here. 

It was to Spassk that they sent terminal cases for whom other 
camps could no longer find any use. But what a surprise! No 
sooner did the sick cross the salubrious boundary lines of Spassk 
than they turned into able-bodied workers. For Colonel Chechev, 
commandant of the whole Steplag complex, the Spassk Camp 
Division was one of his special favorites. This thick-set thug would 
fly in from Karaganda, have his boots cleaned in the guardhouse, 
and walk through the camp trying to spot prisoners not working. 
He liked to say: “I’ve only got one invalid in the whole Spassk 
camp — he’s short of both legs. And even he’s on light duties — he 
runs errands.’’ All one-legged men were employed on sedentary 
work: breaking stones for road surfacing, or grading firewood. 
Neither crutches nor even a missing arm was any obstacle to work 
in Spassk. One of Chechev’s ideas: putting four one-armed men to 
carry a stretcher (two of them left-armed, two of them right- 
armed). An idea thought up for Chechev: driving the machines in 
the engineering shop by hand when there was no electric power. 
Something Chechev liked: having his “own professor.” So he 
allowed the biophysicist Chizhevsky to set up a laboratory at 
Spassk (with empty benches). But when Chizhevsky, using worth- 
less waste materials, devised an antisilicosis mask for the Dzhez- 
kazgan workers — Chechev would not put it into production. 
They’ve always worked without masks; why complicate things? 

5. Under a law of 1886, no form of work which might be injurious to health was 
permitted even if it was the prisoner’s own choice. 

Chains, Chains ... | 63 

After all, there must be a regular turnover, to make room for the 
new intake. 

At the end of 1948 there were about 13,000 prisoners, male and 
female, in Spassk. It was a huge camp area; the posts of the 
boundary fence went uphill in some places, and the corner watch- 
towers were out of sight of each other. The work of self-segrega- 
tion gradually proceeded: the prisoners built inner walls to sepa- 
rate women, workers, complete invalids (this would hinder 
communications within the camp and make things easier for the 
bosses). Six thousand men building a dike had to walk 12 kilome- 
ters to work. Since they were sick men, it took them more than 
two hours each way. To this must be added an eleven-hour work- 
ing day. (It was rare for anyone to last two months on that job.) 
The job next in importance was in the stone quarries — which were 
inside the camp itself, both in the men’s and in the women’s 
section (the island had its own minerals!). In the men’s section the 
quarry was on a hillside. The stone was blasted loose with am- 
monal after the day’s work was over, and next day the sick men 
broke the lumps up with hammers. In the women’s zone they 
didn’t use ammonal — instead, the women dug down to the rock 
layers with picks, then smashed the stone with sledge hammers. 
The hammer heads, of course, came away from the handles, and 
new ones sometimes broke. To replace a head, a hammer had to 
be sent to a different camp zone. Nonetheless, every woman had 
an output norm of 0.9 cubic meters a day, and since they could 
not meet it there was a long period during which they were put 
on short rations (400 grams) — until the men taught them to pinch 
stone from old piles before the daily accounting. Remember that 
all this work was done not only by sick people, not only without 
any mechanical aids at all, but in the harsh winter of the steppes 
(at temperatures as low as 30 to 35 degrees below freezing, and 
with a wind blowing), and what is more, in summer clothing, since 
there was no provision for the issue of warm clothing to non work- 
ers, i.e., to the unfit. P r recalls how she wielded a huge 

hammer, practically naked, in frosts as severe as this. The value 
of this work to the Fatherland becomes very clear when we add 
that for some reason the stone from the women’s quarry proved 
unsuitable as building material, and on a certain day a certain high 
official gave instructions that the women should dump all the 
stone they had quarried in a year back where it came from, cover 
it with soil, and lay out a park (they never, of course, got quite 


that far). In the men’s zone the stone was good. The procedure for 
delivering it to the construction site was as follows: after inspec- 
tion, the whole work force (around eight thousand men— all those 
who were alive on that particular day) was marched up the hill, 
and no one was allowed down again unless he was carrying stone. 
On holidays patients took their constitutional twice daily — morn- 
ing and evening. 

Then came such jobs as self-enclosure, building quarters for the 
camp administration and the guards (dwelling houses, a club, a 
bathhouse, a school), and work in the fields and gardens. 

The produce from these gardens also went to the free personnel, 
while the prisoners got only beet tops: this stuff was brought in by 
the truckload and dumped near the kitchen, where it rotted until 
the cooks pitchforked it into their cauldrons. (A bit like feeding 
cattle, would you say?) The eternal broth was made from these 
beet tops, with the daily addition of one ladleful of mush. Here is 
a horticultural idyll from Spassk: about 150 prisoners made a 
concerted rush at one of the garden plots, lay on the ground, and 
gnawed vegetables pulled from the beds. The guards swarmed 
around, beating them with sticks, but they just lay there munch- 

Nonworking invalids were given 550 grams of bread, working 
invalids 650. Medicines were as yet unknown in Spassk (where 
would you find enough for a mob like that! and they were there 
to peg out anyway), and so were proper beds. In some huts bunks 
were moved up together, and four men instead of two squeezed 
onto a double bed platform. 

Oh, yes — there is one job I haven’t yet mentioned! Every day 
1 10 to 120 men went out to dig graves. Two Studebakers carried 
the corpses in slatted boxes, with their legs and arms sticking out. 
Even in the halcyon summer months of 1949, sixty or seventy 
people died every day, and in winter it was one hundred (the 
Estonians who worked in the morgue kept the count). 

(In other Special Camps mortality was not so high; prisoners 
were better fed, but their work was harder, too, since they were 
not unfit: the reader can make the necessary adjustment himself.) 

All this was in 1949 (the year one thousand nine hundred and 
forty-nine), the thirty-second year after the October Revolution, 
four years after the war, with its harsh imperatives, had ended, 
three years after the conclusion of the Nuremberg Trials, where 
mankind at large had learned about the horrors of the Nazi camps 

Chains, Chains ... | 65 

and said with a sigh of relief: “It can never happen again.*’ 6 

Add to all this that on transfer to a Special Camp your links 
with the outside world, with the wife who waited for you and for 
your letters, with the children for whom you were becoming a 
mythical figure, were as good as severed. (Two letters a year — but 
even these were not posted, after you had put into them thoughts 
saved up for months. Who would venture to check the work of the 
women censors on the MGB staff? They often made their task 
lighter by burning some of the letters they were supposed to 
censor. If your letter did not get through, the post office could 
always be blamed. In Spassk some prisoners were once called in 
to repair a stove in the censors’ office, and they found there hun- 
dreds of unposted letters which the censors had forgotten to bum. 
Conditions in the Special Camps were such that the stove menders 
were afraid to tell their friends — the State Security boys might 
make short work of them These women censors in the Minis- 

try of State Security who burned the souls of prisoners to save 
themselves a little trouble — were they any more humane than the 
SS women who collected the skin and hair of murdered people?) 
As for family visits, they were unthinkable — the address of every 
Special Camp was classified and no outsider was allowed to go 

Let us also add that the Hemingwayesque question to have or 
to have not hardly arose in the Special Camps, since it had been 
firmly resolved from the day of their creation in favor of not 
having . Not having money and receiving no wages (in Corrective 
Labor Camps it was still possible to earn a pittance, but here not 
a single kopeck). Not having a change of shoes or clothing, nor 
anything to put on underneath, to keep yourself warm or dry. 
Underwear (and what underwear — Hemingway’s pauper would 
hardly have deigned to put it on) was changed twice a month; 
other clothes, and shoes, twice a year; it was all laid down with 
a crystalline clarity worthy of Arakcheyev. (Not in the first days 
of the camp, but later on, they fitted out a permanent storeroom, 

6. Let me hasten to put the reader’s mind at rest by assuring him that all these Chechevs, 
Mishins, and Vorobyovs, and also Warder Novgorodov, are flourishing: Chechev in Kara- 
ganda, retired with the rank of general. Not one of them has been brought to trial, or ever 
will be. And what could they be tried for? They were simply carrying out orders. They are 
not to be compared with those Nazis who were simply carrying out orders. If they in any 
way went beyond their orders, it was of course because of their ideological purity, with 
the sincerest intentions, out of simple unawareness that Beria, “Great Stalin’s faithful 
comrade in arms,” was also an agent of international imperialism. 


where clothes were kept until the day of “release,” and not hand- 
ing in any article of wear among your personal belongings was 
considered a serious offense: it counted as preparation to escape, 
and meant the black hole and interrogation.) Not to keep food in 
your locker (you queued in the evening to hand it in at the food 
store, and in the morning to draw jt out again — which effectively 
occupied those half hours in the morning and evening when you 
might have had time to think). Not to have anything in manu- 
script, not to have ink, indelible pencils, or colored pencils, not to 
have unused paper in excess of one school notebook. And finally, 
not to have books. (In Spassk they took away books belonging to 
a prisoner on admission. In our camp we were allowed to keep one 
or two at first, but one day a wise decree was issued: all books 
belonging to prisoners must be registered with the Culture and 
Education Section, where the words “Steplag, Camp Division No. 

” would be stamped on the title page. Henceforward all 

unstamped books would be confiscated as illegal, while stamped 
books would be considered the property of the library, not that of 
their former owners.) 

Let us further remind ourselves that in Special Camps searches 
were more frequent and intensive than in Corrective Labor 
Camps. (Prisoners were carefully searched each day as they left 
for and returned from work [Plate No. 3]; huts were searched 
regularly — floors raised, fire bars levered out of stoves, boards 
pried up in porches; then there were prison-type personal 
searches, in which prisoners were stripped and probed, linings 
ripped away from clothes and soles from shoes.) That after a while 
they started weeding out every last blade of grass in the camp area 
“in case somebody hides a weapon there.” That free days were 
taken up by chores about the camp. 

If you remember all this, it may not surprise you to hear that 
making him wear numbers was not the most hurtful and effective 
way of damaging a prisoner’s self-respect: when Ivan Denisovich 
says, “They weigh nothing, the numbers,” it does not mean that 
he has lost all self-respect — as some haughty critics, who never 
themselves wore numbers or went hungry, have disapprovingly 
said — it is just common sense. The numbers were vexatious not 
because of their psychological or moral effects, as the bosses in- 
tended, but for a purely practical reason — that on pain of a spell 
in the hole we had to waste our leisure hours sewing up hems that 
had come unstitched, getting the figures touched up by the “art- 

Chains, Chains ... | 67 

ists,” or searching for fresh rags to replace patches tom at work. 

The people for whom the numbers were indeed the most 
diabolical of the camp’s devices were the devout women members 
of certain religious sects. There were some of these in the Women’s 
Camp Division near the Suslovo station (Kamyshlag) — about a 
third of the women there were imprisoned for their religion. Now, 
it is plainly foretold in the Book of Revelation (Chapter 13, Verse 
16) that “it* causes all ... to be marked on the right hand or the 

These women refused, therefore, to wear numbers — the mark 
of Satan! Nor would they give signed receipts (to Satan, of course) 
in return for regulation dress. The camp authorities (Chief of 
Administration General Grigoryev, head of Separate Camp Site 
Major Bogush) showed laudable firmness! They gave orders that 
the women should be stripped to their shifts, and have their shoes 
taken from them (the job went to wardresses who were members 
of the Komsomol), thus enlisting winter’s help in forcing these 
senseless fanatics to accept regulation dress and sew on their 
numbers. But even with the temperature below freeing, the 
women walked about theoamp in their shifts and barefoot, refus- 
ing to surrender their souls to Satan! 

Faced with this spirit (the spirit of reaction, needless to say; 
enlightened people like ourselves would never protest so strongly 
about such a thing!), the administration capitulated and gave their 
clothing back to the sectarians, who put it on without numbers! 
(Yelena Ivanovna Usova wore hers for the whole ten years; her 
outer garments and underwear rotted and fell to pieces on her 
body, but the accounts office could not authorize the issue of any 
government property without a receipt from her!) 

Another annoying thing about the numbers was their size, 
which enabled the guards to read them from a long way off. They 
only ever saw us from a distance at which they would have time 
to bring their guns to the ready and fire, they knew none of us, 
of course, by name, and since we were dressed identically would 
have been unable to distinguish one from another but for our 
numbers. But now, if the guards noticed anybody talking on the 
march, or changing ranks, or not keeping his hands behind his 
back, or picking something up from the ground, the guard com- 
mander only had to report it to the camp and the culprit could 
expect the black hole. 

The guards were yet another force which could crush a prisoner 


like a sparrow caught in a pulping machine. These “red tabs,” 
regular soldiers, these little lads with Tommy guns, were a dark, 
unreasoning force, knowing nothing of us, never accepting expla- 
nations. Nothing could get through from us to them, and from 
them to us came only angry shouts, the barking of dogs, the 
grating of breechblocks, bullets. And they, not we, were always 

In Ekibastuz, where they were adding gravel to a railroad bed, 
working without a boundary fence but cordoned by guards, a 
prisoner took a few steps, inside the permitted area, to get some 
bread from his coat, which he had thrown down — and one of the 
guards went for him and killed him. The guard, of course, was in 
the right. He would receive nothing but thanks. I’m sure he has 
no regrets to this day. Nor did we express our indignation. Need- 
less to say, we wrote no letters about it (and if we had, our 
complaints would not have gone any further). 

On January 19, 1951, our column of five hundred men had 
reached work site ARM. On one side of us was the boundary 
fence, with no soldiers between us and it. They were about to let 
us in through the gates. Suddenly a prisoner called Maloy (“Lit- 
tle,” who was in fact a tall, broad-shouldered young man) broke 
ranks for no obvious reason and absent-mindedly walked toward 
the guard commander. We got the impression that he was not 
himself, that he did not know what he was doing. He did not raise 
his hand, he made no threatening gesture, he simply walked on, 
lost in thought. The officer in charge, a nasty-looking, foppish 
little fellow, took fright and started hastily backing away from 
Maloy, shouting shrilly, and try as he would, unable to draw his 
pistol. A sergeant Tommy-gunner advanced briskly on Maloy and 
when he was within a few paces gave him a short burst in the chest 
and the belly, slowly backing away in his turn. Maloy slowly 
advanced another two paces before he fell, and tufts of wadding 
sprang into sight in the back of his jacket, marking the path of the 
invisible bullets. Although Maloy was down, and the rest of the 
column had not stirred, the guard commander was so terrified that 
he rapped out an order to the soldiers and there was a rattle of 
Tommy guns on all sides, raking the air just above our heads; a 
machine gun, set up beforehand, began chattering, and many 
voices vying with each other in hysterical shrillness screamed: 
“Lie down! Lie down! Lie down!” While the bullets came lower 
and lower, to the level of the boundary wires. There were half a 

Chains, Chains ... | 69 

thousand of us, but we did not hurl ourselves on the men with the 
guns and trample on them; we prostrated ourselves and lay with 
our faces buried in the snow, in a humiliating and helpless posi- 
tion, lay like sheep for more than a quarter of an hour on that 
Epiphany morning. They could easily have shot every last one of 
us without having to answer for it: why, this was attempted mu- 

This was what we were like in the first and second years of the 
Special Camps — pathetic, crushed slaves — but enough has been 
said about this period in Ivan Denisovich. 

How did it come about? Why did so many thousands of these 
misused creatures, the 58’s — damn it all, they were political 
offenders, and now that they were separated, segregated, concen- 
trated, surely they would behave like politicals — why, then, did 
they behave so contemptibly, so submissively? 

These camps could not have begun differently. Both the op- 
pressed and their oppressors had come from Corrective Labor 
Camps, and both sides had decades of a master-and-slave tradition 
behind them. Their old way of life was transferred with them, they 
kept the old way of thinking alive and warm in each other’s minds, 
because they traveled a hundred or so at a time from the same 
Camp Division. They brought with them to their new place the 
firm belief inculcated in all of them that men are rats, that man 
eats man, and that it can be no other way. Each of diem brought 
with him a concern for his own fate alone, and a total indifference 
to the fate of others. He came prepared to give no quarter in the 
struggle for a foreman’s job or a trusty’s cozy spot in a warm 
kitchen, in the bread-cutting room, in the stores, in the accounts 
office, or in the Culture and Education Section. 

When a man is being moved to a new place all by himself, he 
can base his hopes of getting fixed up there only on luck and his 
own unscrupulousness. But when men are transported together 
over great distances in the same boxcar for two or three or four 
weeks, are kept stewing in the same transit prisons, are marched 
.along in the same columns, they have plenty of time to put their 
heads together, .to judge which of them has a foreman’s fist, which 
knows how to crawl to the bosses, to play dirty tricks, to feather 
his nest at the expense of thfe working prisoners — and a close-knit 
family of trusties naturally does not indulge in dreams of freedom 
but joins forces to uphold the cause of slavery, clubs together to 
seize the key posts in the new camp and keep out trusties from 


elsewhere. While the benighted workers, completely reconciled to 
their harsh and hopeless lot, get together to form good work teams 
and find themselves a decent foreman in the new place. 

All these people had forgotten beyond recall not only that each 
of them was a man, that he carried the divine spark within him, 
that he was capable of higher things; they had forgotten, too, that 
they need not forever bend their backs, that freedom is as much 
man’s right as air, that they were all so-called politicals, and that 
there were now no strangers in their midst. 

True, there were still a very few thieves among them. The 
authorities had despaired of deterring their favorites from fre- 
quent attempts to break out (under Article 82 of the Criminal 
Code the penalty was not more than two years, and the thieves had 
already collected decades and centuries of extra time, so why 
should they not run away if there was no one to dissuade them?) 
and decided to pin charges under Article 58, Section 14 (economic 
sabotage), on would-be escapers. 

Altogether not very many thieves went into Special Camps, just 
a handful in each transport, but in their code there were enough 
of them to bully and insult people, to act as hut wardens and walk 
around with sticks (like the two Azerbaijanis in Spassk who were 
subsequently hacked to death), and to help the trusties plant on 
these new islands of the Archipelago the flag (shit-colored, 
trimmed with black) of the foul and slavish Destructive-Labor 

The camp at Ekibastuz had been set up a year before our arrival 
— in 1949— and everything had settled down in the old pattern 
brought there in the minds of prisoners and masters. Every hut 
had a warden, a deputy warden, and senior prisoners, some of 
whom relied on their fists and others on talebearing to keep their 
subjects down. There was a separate hut for the trusties, where 
they took tea reclining on their bunks and amicably settled the fate 
of whole work sites and whole work teams. Thanks to the peculiar 
design of the Finnish huts,* there were in each of them separate 
cabins occupied ex officio by one or two privileged prisoners. 
Work assigners rabbit-punched you, foremen smacked you in the 
kisser, warders laid on with the lash. The cooks were a mean and 
surly lot. All storerooms were taken over by freedom-loving 
Caucasians. Work-assignment duties were monopolized by a 
clique of scoundrels who were all supposed to be engineers. Stool 
pigeons carried their tales to the Security Section punctually and 

Chains, Chains ... | 71 

with impunity. The camp, which had started a year ago in tents, 
now had a stone jailhouse — which, however, was only half-built 
and so always badly overcrowded: prisoners sentenced to the hole 
had to wait in line for a month or even two. Law and order had 
broken down, no doubt about it! Queuing for the hole! (I was 
sentenced to the hole, and my turn never came.) 

True, the thieves (or bitches, to be more precise, since they 
were not too grand to take posts in the camp) had lost a little 
of their shine in the course of the year. They felt themselves 
somehow cramped — they had no rising generation behind 
them, no reinforcements in sight, no one eagerly tiptoeing after 
them. Things somehow weren’t working out for them. Hut 
warden Mageran, when the disciplinary officer introduced him 
to the lined-up prisoners, did his best to glower at them de- 
fiantly, but self-doubt soon took possession of him and his star 
sank ingloriously. 

We, like every party of new arrivals, were put under pressure 
while we were still taking our bath on admission. The bathhouse 
attendants, barbers, and storemen were on edge and ganged up to 
attack anyone who tried to make the most diffident complaint 
about tom underwear or cold water or the heat-sterilization proce- 
dure. They were just waiting for such complaints. Several of them 
at once flew at the offender, like a pack of dogs, yelling in unnatu- 
rally loud voices — “You aren’t in the Kuibyshev Transit Prison 
now” — and shoving their hamlike fists under his nose. (This was 
good psychology. A naked man is ten times more vulnerable than 
one in clothes. And if newly arrived prisoners are given a bit of 
a fright before they emerge from the inaugural bath, they will 
begin camp life with their wings clipped.) 

That same Volodya Gershuni, the student who had imagined 
himself taking a good look around in the camp and deciding 
“whom to join,” was detailed on his very first day to strengthen 
the camp— by digging a hole for one of the poles to which lights 
were strung. He was too weak to complete his stint. Orderly 
Baturin, one of the bitches, who was beginning to sing smaller but 
still had a bit of bluster in him, called him a pirate, and struck him 
in the face. Gershuni threw down his crowbar and walked right 
away from the hole. He went to the commandant’s office, and 
made a declaration: “You can put me in the black hole if you like, 
but I won’t go to work as long as your pirates hit people.” (The 
word “pirate” had particularly upset him, because it was strange 


to him.) His request was not refused, and he spent two consecutive 
spells in the black hole, eighteen days in all. (This is how it’s done: 
a prisoner is given five or ten days for a start, then when his time 
is up, instead of letting him out they wait for him to start protest- 
ing and cursing — whereupon they can legitimately stick him with 
a second spell.) After the black hole, they awarded him a further 
two months of Disciplinary Barracks— which meant that he 
stayed on in the jailhouse but would go out to work at the lime- 
kilns and get hot food and rations according to his output. Realiz- 
ing that he was sinking deeper and deeper into the mire, Gershuni 
sought salvation through the Medical Section — he hadn’t yet 
taken the measure of “Madame” Dubinskaya, who was in charge 
of it. He assumed that he could just present his flat feet for inspec- 
tion and be excused from the long walk to and from the limekilns. 
But they wouldn’t even take him to the Medical Section — the 
Ekibastuz Disciplinary Barracks had no use for the out patients’ 
clinic. Gershuni was determined to get there, and he had heard a ' 
lot about methods of protest, so one morning when the prisoners 
were being lined up for work, he stayed on the bed platform, 
wearing only his underpants. Two warders, “Polundra” (a crack- 
brained ex-sailor) and Konentsov, dragged him off the bed plat- 
form by his feet and hauled him just as he was, in his underpants, 
to the line-up. As they dragged him he clutched at stones lying on 
the ground, ready for the builders, and tried to hang on to them. 
By now he was willing to go to the limekilns — “Just let me get my 
trousers on” he yelled— but they dragged him along just the same. 
At the guardhouse, while four thousand men were kept waiting 
for their work assignments, this puny boy struggled as they tried 
to handcuff him, shouting, “Gestapo! Fascists!” Polundra and 
Konentsov, however, forced his head to the ground, put the hand- 
cuffs on, and prodded him forward. For some reason, it was not 
they who were embarrassed, nor the disciplinary officer, Lieuten- 
ant Machekhovsky, but Gershuni himself. How could he walk 
through the whole settlement in his underpants? He refused to do 
it! A snub-nosed dog handler was standing nearby. Volodya 
remembered how he muttered: “Stop making such a fuss — fall in 
with the others. You can sit by the fire— you needn’t work.” And 
he held tightly onto his dog, which was struggling to break loose 
and get at Volodya’s throat, because it could see that this lad was 
defying men with blue shoulder tabs! Volodya was removed from 
the work-assignment area and taken back to the Disciplinary 

Chains , Chains ... | 73 

Barracks. The handcuffs cut more and more painfully into his 
wrists behind his back, and another warder, a Cossack, gripped 
him by the throat and winded him with his knee. Then they threw 
him on the floor, somebody said in a businesslike, professional 
voice, “Thrash him till he himself,” and they started kick- 

ing him with their jackboots about the temples and elsewhere, 
until he lost consciousness. The next day he was summoned to the 
Chief Security Officer, and they tried to pin a charge of terrorist 
intentions on him — when they were dragging him along he had 
clutched at stones! Why? 

On another occasion Tverdokhleb tried refusing to report for 
work assignment. He also went on a hunger strike — he was not 
going to work for Satan! Treating his declarations with contempt, 
they forcibly dragged him out. This took place in an ordinary hut, 
so that he was able to reach the windowpanes and break them. The 
jangle of breaking glass could be heard by the whole line-up, a 
dismal accompaniment to the voices of work assigners and ward- 
ers counting. 

To the droning monotony of our days, weeks, months, years. 

And there was no ray of hope in sight. Rays of hope were not 
budgeted for in the MVD plan when these camps were set up. 

Twenty-five of us newcomers, mostly Western Ukrainians, 
banded together in a work team and persuaded the work assigners 
to let us choose a foreman from our own number — Pavel Boro- 
nyuk, whom I have mentioned before. We made a well-behaved 
and hard-working team. (The Western Ukrainians, farm workers 
only yesterday and not in collectives, needed no urging on — at 
times they had to be reined in!) For some days we were regarded 
as general laborers, but then some of us turned out to be skilled 
bricklayers, others started learning from them, and so we became 
a building brigade. Our bricklaying went well. The bosses noticed 
it, took us off the housing project (building homes for free person- 
nel), and kept us in the camp area. They showed our foreman the 
pile of stones by the Disciplinary Barracks — the same stones 
which Gershuni had tried to hang on to — and promised uninter- 
rupted deliveries from the quarry. They explained that the Disci- 
plinary Barracks as we saw it was only half a Disciplinary Bar- 
racks, that the other half must now be built onto it, and that this 
would be done by our team. 

So, to our shame, we started building a prison for ourselves. 

It was a long, dry autumn, not a drop of rain fell throughout 


September and the first half of October. In the mornings it was 
calm, then the wind would rise, grow stronger by the middle of 
the day, and die away again toward evening. Sometimes this wind 
blew continuously, a thin, nagging wind which made you more 
painfully aware than ever of the heartbreaking flatness of the 
steppe, visible to us even from the scaffolding around the Discipli- 
nary Barracks: neither the settlement with the first factory build- 
ings, nor the hamlet where the guards lived, still less the wire 
fences around the camp, could conceal from us the endlessness, 
the boundlessness, the perfect flatness, and the hopelessness of 
that steppe, broken only by the first line of roughly barked tele- 
graph poles running northeast to Pavlodar. Sometimes the wind 
freshened, and within an hour it would bring in cold weather from 
Siberia, forcing us to put on our padded jackets and whipping our 
faces unmercifully with the coarse sand and small stones which it 
swept along over the steppe. There is nothing for it; it will be 
simpler if I repeat the poem that I wrote at this time while I was 
helping to build the Disciplinary Barracks. 


Like him of whom the poet sings, a mason, I 
Tame the wild stones to make a jail. No city jail — 

Here naught but fences, huts, and guard towers meets the eye, 

And in the limpid sky the watchful buzzards sail. 

None but the wind moves on the steppe — none to inquire 
For whom I raise these walls . . . why dogs, machine guns, wire 
Are still not jail enough. Trowel in hand, I too 
Work thoughtlessly until — “The wall is out of true! 

You’ll be the first inside!” The major’s easy jest 

Adds naught to my fears. Informers have played their role. 

My record is pocked like a face marked by black pest; 

Neat brackets tie me to others bound, for the hole. 

Breaking, trimming, hammer to merry hammer calls. 

Wall after gloomy wall springs up, walls within walls. 

While we mix mortar we smoke, and await with delight — 

Extra bread, extra slops in our basins tonight. 

Back on our perch, we peer into cells walled with stones — 

Black pits whose depths will muffle tortured comrades’ groans. 

Our jailers, like us, have no link with the world of men 
But the endless road and the humming wires overhead. . . . 

Oh, God, how lost we are, how impotent! 

Was ever slave more abject, hope more dead! 

Chains, Chains ... | 75 

Slaves! Not so much because, frightened by Major Mak- 
simenko’s threats, we took care to lay the stones crisscross, with 
an honest layer of mortar between them, so that future prisoners 
would not easily be able to pull that wall down. But because even 
though we somewhat underfulfilled our norm, our team of prison 
builders was issued with supplementary rations, and instead of 
flinging them in the major’s face we ate them. Our comrade Volo- 
dya Gershuni was sitting at that very time in the completed wing 
of the Disciplinary Barracks. And Ivan Spassky, for no known 
offense, but because of some mysterious black mark on his record, 
was already in the punishment cells. And for many of us the future 
held a spell in that same Disciplinary Barracks, in the very cells 
which we were building with such precision and efficiency. During 
working hours, when we were nimbly handling stones and mortar, 
shots suddenly rang out over the steppe. Shortly after, a prison van 
drove up to the guardhouse, where we were (it was assigned to the 
guard unit, a genuine prison van such as you see in towns— but 
they hadn’t painted “Drink Soviet Champagne” on its sides for 
the benefit of the gophers).* Four men were bundled out of the 
van, all of them battered and covered with blood. Two of them 
stumbled, one was pulled out; only the first out, Ivan Vorobyov, 
walked proudly and angrily. 

They led the runaways past us, right under our feet, under the 
catwalks we stood on, and turned with them into the already 
completed right wing of the Disciplinary Barracks. . . . 

While we . . . went on laying our stones. 

Escape! What desperate courage it took! Without civilian 
clothes, without food, with empty hands, to cross the fence under 
fire and run into the bare, waterless, endless open steppe! It wasn’t 
a rational idea — it was an act of defiance, a proud means of sui- 
cide. A form of resistance of which only the strongest and boldest 
among us were capable! 

But we . . . went on laying our stones. 

And talking it over. This was the second escape attempt in a 
month. The first had also failed — but that had been rather a silly 
one. Vasily Bryukhin (nicknamed “Blyuker”), Mutyanov the en- 
gineer, and another former Polish officer had dug a hole, one cubic 
meter in capacity, under the room in which they worked in the 
engineering shop, settled down in it with a stock of food, and 
covered themselves over. They naively expected that in the eve- 
ning the guard would be taken off the working area as usual, and 


that they would then be able to climb out and leave. But when at 
knocking-off time three men were missed, with no breaks in the 
wire to account for it, guards were left on duty round the clock 
for days. During this time people walked about over their heads, 
and dogs were brought in — but the men in hiding held petrol- 
soaked wadding by a crack in the floor to throw the dogs off the 
scent. Three days and nights they sat there without talking or 
stirring, with their legs and arms contorted and entwined, three 
of them in a space of one cubic meter, until at last they could stand 
it no longer and came out 

Other teams came back into the camp area and told us how 
Vorobyov’s group had tried to escape: they had burst through the 
fences in a lorry. 

Another week. We were still laying stones. The layout of the 
second wing of the Disciplinary Barracks was now clearly discern- 
ible — here would be the cozy little punishment cells, here the 
solitary-confinement cells, here the “box rooms.” We had by now 
erected a huge quantity of stone in a little space, and they kept 
bringing more and more of it from the quarries: the stone cost 
nothing, labor in the quarries or on the site cost nothing; only the 
cement was an expense to the state. 

The week went by, time enough for the four thousand of Ekibas- 
tuz to reflect that trying to escape was insanity, that it led no- 
where. And — on another equally sunny day — shots rang out again 
on the steppe. An escape!!! It was like an epidemic: again the guard 
troops’ van sped into the camp, bringing two of them (the third 
had been killed on the spot). These two — Batanov and another, a 
small, quite young man — were led past us, all bloody, to the 
completed wing, there to be beaten, stripped, tossed onto the bare 
floor, and left without food or drink. What are your feelings, slave, 
as you look upon them, mangled and proud? Surely not a mean 
satisfaction that it is not you who have been caught, not you who 
have been beaten up, not you. who have been doomed. 

“Get on with it — we’ve got to finish the left wing soon!” yells 
Maksimenko, our potbellied major. 

And we ... lay our stones. We shall get extra kasha in the 

Captain Second Class Burkovsky carries the mortar. Whatever 
is built, he thinks, is for the good of the Motherland. 

In the evening we were told that Batanov, too, had tried to 
break out in a lorry. It had been stopped by gunfire. 

Chains, Chains ... | 77 

Surely you have understood by now, you slaves, that running 
away is suicide, that no one will ever succeed in running farther 
than one kilometer, that your lot is to work and to die. 

Less than five days later, no shots were heard — but it was as 
though the sky were of metal and someone was banging on it with 
a huge iron bar when the news came. An escape! Another escape!!! 
And this time a successful one. 

The escape on Sunday, September 17, was executed so neatly 
that the evening inspection went off without trouble — as far as the 
screws could see, the numbers tallied. It was only on the morning 
of the eighteenth that their sums wouldn’t work out right — and 
work line-up was canceled for a general recount. There were 
several inspections on the central tract, then inspections by huts, 
inspections by work teams, then a roll call from filing cards — the 
dogs couldn’t count anything except the money in the till. They 
arrived at a different answer every time! They still didn’t know 
how many had run away, who exactly, when, where to, and 
whether on foot or with a vehicle. 

By now it was Monday evening, but they gave us no dinner (the 
cooks, too, had been turned out onto the central tract to help with 
the counting!), but we didn’t mind. We were only too happy! Every 
successful escape is a great joy to other prisoners! However bru- 
tally the guards behave afterward, however harsh discipline 
becomes, we don’t mind a bit, we’re only too happy! What d’you 
think of that, you dogs! Some of us have escaped! (We look our 
masters in the eye, alt the time secretly thinking: Let them not be 
caught! Let them notife caught!) 

What is more, they didn’t lead us out to work, and Monday 
went by like a second day off. (A good thing the lads hadn’t legged 
it on Saturday! They’d taken care not to spoil our Sunday for us!) 

But who were they? Who were they? 

On Monday evening the news went round: Georgi Tenno and 
Kolya Zhdanok. 

We built the prison higher. We had already made the straight 
arches over the doors, built above the little window spaces, and 
we were now leaving sockets for the beams. 

Three days since they had escaped.' Seven. Ten. Fifteen. 

Still no news! 

They had got away!! 

Chapter 4 

Why Did We Stand For It? 

Among my readers there is a certain educated Marxist Histo- 
rian. Sitting in his soft armchair, and leafing through this book to 
the passage about how we built the Disciplinary Barracks, he takes 
off his glasses, taps the page with something flat, a ruler perhaps, 
and nods his head repeatedly. 

“Yes, yes . . . This bit I can believe. But all that stuff about the 
— er — whiff of revolution. Til be damned if I do! You could not 
have a revolution, because revolutions take place in accordance 
with the laws of history. In your case all that had happened was 
that a few thousand so-called “politicals” were picked up — and 
did what? Deprived of human appearance, of dignity, family, 
freedom, clothing, food — what did you do? Why didn’t you re- 

“We were earning our rations. I told you — building a prison.” 
“That’s fine. Just what you should have been doing! It was 
for the good of the people. It was the only correct solution. 
But don’t call yourselves revolutionaries, my friends! To make 
a revolution you must be linked with the one and only pro- 
gressive class. ...” 

“Yes, but weren’t we all workers by then?” 

“That is neither here nor there. That is a philistine quibble. 
Have you any idea what historical necessity means?” 

I rather think I have. I honestly have. I have an idea that when 
camps with millions of prisoners exist for forty years — that’s 
where we can see historical necessity at work. So many millions, 
for so many years, cannot be explained by Stalin’s vagaries or 
Beria’s perfidy, by the naive trustfulness of the ruling party, o’er 


Why Did We Stand For It? | 79 

which the light of the Vanguard Doctrine never ceased to shine. 
But I won’t cast this example of historical necessity in my oppo- 
nent’s teeth. He would only smile sweetly and tell me that that was 
not the subject under discussion, that I was straying from the 

He sees that I am at a loss, that I have no clear conception of 
historical necessity, and explains: 

“Those were revolutionaries, who rose up and swept Tsarism 
away with their broom. Very simple. If Tsar Nicky had so much 
as tried to squeeze his revolutionaries so hard! If he had just tried 
to pin numbers on them! If he had even tried . . .” 

“You are right. He didn’t try. He didn’t try, and that’s the only 
reason why they survived to try it when he had gone.” 

“But he couldn't try it! He couldn’t!” 

Probably also correct. Not that he might not have liked to — but 
that he couldn’t. 

In the conventional Cadet (let alone socialist) interpretation, 
the whole of Russian history is a succession of tyrannies. The 
Tatar tyranny. The tyranny of the Moscow princes. Five centuries 
of indigenous tyranny on the Oriental model, and of a social order 
firmly and frankly rooted in slavery. (Forget about the Assemblies 
of the Land,* the village commune, the free Cossacks, the free 
peasantry of the North.) Whether it is Ivan the Terrible, Alexis 
the Gentle, heavy-handed Peter, or velvety Catherine, all the 
Tsars right up to the Crimean War knew one thing only — how to 
crush. To crush their subjects like beetles or caterpillars. If a man 
was sentenced to hard labor and deportation, they pricked on his 
body the letters “SK”* and chained him to his wheelbarrow. The 
state bore hard on its subjects; it was unflinchingly firm. Mutinies 
and uprisings were invariably crushed. 

Only . . . only . . . Crushed, yes, but the word needs qualification. 
Not crushed in our modem technical sense. After the war with 
Napoleon, when our army came back from Europe, the first 
breath of freedom passed over Russian society. Faint as it was, the 
Tsar had to reckon with it. The common soldiers, for instance, 
who took part in the Decembrist rising* — was a single one of them 
strung up? Was a single one shot? And in our day would a single 
one of them have been left alive? Neither Pushkin nor Lermontov 
could be simply put inside for a tenner — roundabout ways of 
dealing with them had to be found. “Where would you have been 


in Petersburg on December 14?” Nicholas I asked Pushkin. Push- 
kin answered honestly, “On the Senate Square.”* And by way of 
punishment ... he was told to go home! Whereas all of us who 
have felt on our own hides the workings of a mechanized judicial 
system, and of course all our friends in public prosecutors’ offices, 
know the proper price for Pushkin’s answer: Article 58, Section 
2 (armed insurrection), or — the mildest possible treatment — Arti- 
cle 19 (criminal intent) — and if not shooting, certainly nothing 
short of a tenner. Our Pushkins had heavy sentences slapped on 
them, went to the camps, and died. (Gumilyev never even got as 
far as a camp; they settled accounts with him in a cellar.) 

Of all her wars, the Crimea was Russia’s luckiest! It brought the 
emancipation of the peasants and Alexander’s reforms, and what 
is more, the greatest of social forces — public opinion — appeared 
simultaneously inRussia. 

On the face of it the Siberian katorga went on festering, and 
even spread: more transit prisons were brought into operation, 
prisoners were still transported in droves, courts were always in 
session. But what is this? The courts were in session but Vera 
Zasulich, who shot at the chief of police in the capital (!), was 

Seven attempts were made on the life of Alexander n himself 
(Karakozov’s; 1 Solovyov’s; one near Aleksandrovsky one outside 
Kursk; Khalturin’s explosion; Teterka’s mine; Grinevitsky). Alex- 
ander II went around Petersburg with fear in his eyes (but, inci- 
dentally, without a bodyguard), “like a hunted animal” (accord- 
ing to Tolstoi, who met the Tsar on the staircase of a private 
house). 2 What did he do about it? Ruin and banish half Peters- 
burg, as happened after Kirov’s murder? You know very well that 
such a thing could never enter his head. Did he apply the methods 
of prophylactic mass terror? Total terror, as in 1918? Take hos- 
tages? The concept didn’t exist Imprison dubious persons? It 
simply wasn’t possible. . . . Execute thousands? They executed 
. . . five. Fewer than three hundred were convicted by the courts 
in this period. (If just one such attempt had been made on Stalin, 

1. Karakozov, incidentally, had a brother. Brother of the man who tried to shoot the 
Tsar! Measure that by our yardstick. What was his punishment? “He was ordered to 
change his name to Vladimirov.” He suffered neither loss of property rights nor restrictions 
as to his place of residence. 

2. Lev Tolstoi v Vospominaniakh Sovremennifcov (Lev Tolstoi Remembered by His Con- 
temporaries), Vol. 1, 1955, p. 180. 

Why Did We Stand For It? | 81 

how many million lives would it have cost us?) 

The Bolshevik Olminsky writes that in 1891 he was the only 
political prisoner in the whole Kresty Prison. Transferred to Mos- 
cow, he was the only one in the Taganka. It was only in the 
Butyrid, awaiting deportation, that a small party of them was 

With every year of education and literary freedom the invisible 
but terrible power of public opinion grew, until the Tsars lost their 
grip on both reins and mane, and Nicholas II could only clutch 
at crupper and tail. It is true that the initial undertow of dynastic 
tradition prevented him from understanding the demands of his 
age, and that he lacked the courage to act. In the age of airplanes 
and electricity he still lacked all social awareness, and thought of 
Russia as his own rich and richly variegated estate, in which to 
levy tribute, breed stallions, and raise armies for a bit of a war now 
and again with his imperial brother of the house of Hohenzollem. 
But neither he, nor any of those who governed for him, any longer 
had the will to fight for their power. They no longer crushed their 
enemies; they merely squeezed them gently and let them go. They 
were forever looking over their shoulders and straining their ears: 
what would "public opinion say? They persecuted revolutionaries 
just sufficiently to broaden their circle of acquaintance in prisons, 
toughen them, and ring their heads with haloes. We now have an 
accurate yardstick to establish the scale of these phenomena — and 
we can safely say that the Tsarist government did not persecute 
revolutionaries but tenderly nurtured them, for its own destruc- 
tion. The uncertainty, half-heartedness, and feebleness of the Tsar- 
ist government are obvious to all who have experienced an infalli- 
ble judicial system. 

Let us examine, for instance, some generally known biographi- 
cal facts about Lenin. In spring, 1887, his brother was executed 
for an attempt on the life of Alexander HI. 3 Like Karakozov’s 
brother, Lenin was the brother of a would-be regicide. And what 

3. It was mddCTtaHy established in the course of investigation that Anna Ulyanova had 
received a coded telegram from Vilna: “Sister dangerously ill,” which meant “Weapons 
on the way.” Anna was not surprised, although she had no sister in Vilna, and for some 
reason passed it on to Aleksandr; she was obviously his accomplice, and in our day she 
could have been sure of a tenner. But Anna was not even asked to account for it! In the 
same case it was established that another Anna (Serdyukova), a schoolteacher at 
Yekaterinodar, had direct knowledge of the planned attempt on the Tsar, and kept silent. 
What would have happened to her in our time? She would have been shot And what did 
they give her? Two years . . . 


happened to him? In the autumn of that very year Vladimir Ulya- 
nov was admitted to the Imperial University at Kazan, and what 
is more, to the Law Faculty! Surprising, isn’t it? 

True, Vladimir Ulyanov was expelled from the university in the 
same academic year. But this was for organizing a student demon- 
stration against the government. The younger brother of a would- 
be regicide inciting students to insubordination? What would he 
have got for that in our day? He would certainly have been shot! 
(And of the rest, some would have got twenty-five and others ten 
years.) Whereas he was merely expelled. Such cruelty! Yes, but he 
was also banished. ... To Sakhalin ? 4 No, to the family estate of 
Kokushkino, where he intended to spend the summer anyway. He 
wanted to work — so they gave him an opportunity. ... To fell 
trees in the frozen north? No, to practice law in Samara, where 
he was simultaneously active in illegal political circles. After this 
he was allowed to take his examinations at St. Petersburg Univer- 
sity as an external student (With his curriculum vitae? What was 
the Special Section thinking of?) 

Then a few years later this same young revolutionary was ar- 
rested for founding in the capital a “League of Struggle for the 
Liberation of the Working Class" — no less! He had repeatedly 
made “seditious" speeches to workers, had written political leaf- 
lets. Was he tortured, starved? No, they created for him conditions 
conducive to intellectual work. In the Petersburg investigation 
prison, where he was held for a year, and where he was allowed 
to receive the dozens of books he needed, he wrote the greater part 
of The Development of Capitalism in Russia, and, moreover, for- 
warded — legally, through the Prosecutor’s Office — his Economic 
Essays to the Marxist journal Novoye Slovo. While in prison, he 
followed a prescribed diet, could have dinners sent in at his own 
expense, buy milk, buy mineral water from a chemist’s shop, and 
receive parcels from home three times a week. (Trotsky, too, was 
able to put the first draft of his theory of permanent revolution on 
paper in the Peter and Paul Fortress.) 

But then, of course, he was condemned by a three-man tribunal 
and shot? No, he wasn’t even jailed, only banished. To Yakutya, 
then, for life? No, to a land of plenty, Minusinsk, and for three 
years. He was taken there in handcuffs? In a prison train? Not at 

4. There were, incidentally, political prisoners on Sakhalin. But, as it happened, not a 
single notable Bolshevik (or for that matter Menshevik) was ever there. 

Why Did We Stand For It? | 83 

all! He traveled like a free man, went around Petersburg for three 
days without interference, then did the same in Moscow — he had 
to leave instructions for clandestine correspondence, establish 
connections, hold a conference of revolutionaries still at large. He 
was even allowed to go into exile at his own expense — that is, to 
travel with free passengers. Lenin never sampled a single convict 
train or a single transit prison on his way out to Siberia or, of 
course, on the return journey. Then, in Krasnoyarsk, two more 
months' work in the library saw The Development of Capitalism 
finished, and this book, written by a political exile, appeared in 
print without obstruction from the censorship. (Measure that by 
our yardstick!) But what would he live on in that remote village, 
where he would obviously find no work? He asked for an allow- 
ance from the state, and they paid him more than he needed. It 
would have been impossible to create better conditions than Lenin 
enjoyed in his one and only period of banishment. A healthy diet, 
at extremely low prices, plenty of meat (a sheep every week), milk, 
vegetables; he could hunt to his heart's content (when he was 
dissatisfied with his dog, friends seriously considered sending him 
one from Petersburg; when mosquitoes bit him while he was put 
hunting, he ordered kid gloves); he was cured of his gastric disor- 
ders and the other illnesses of his youth, and rapidly put on 
weight. He had no obligations, no work to do, no duties, nor did 
his womenfolk exert themselves; for two and a half rubles a 
month, a fifteen-year-old peasant girl did all the rough work about 
the house. Lenin had no need to write for money, turned down 
offers of paid work from Petersburg, and wrote only things which 
could bring him literary fame. 

. He served his term of banishment (he could have “escaped” 
without difficulty, but was too circumspect for that). Was his 
sentence automatically extended? Converted to deportation for 
life? How could it be— that would have been illegal He was given 
permission to reside in Pskov, on condition that he did not visit 
the capital. He did visit Riga and Smolensk. He Was not under 
surveillance. Then he and his friend (Martov) took a basket of 
forbidden literature to the capital, traveling via Tsarskoye Selo, 
where there were particularly strict controls (they had been too 
clever by half). He was picked up in Petersburg. True, he no longer 
had the basket, but he did have a letter to Plekhanov in invisible 
ink with the whole plan for launching Iskra. * Hie police, though, 
could not put themselves to all that trouble; he was under arrest