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Chapter 2 Reflections

2.1 Thinking About Norilsk

. . . Other comparisons come to mind. Slaves in America were treated as if they were working animals. Nazi and Soviet slaves were treated worse than working animals; millions were killed as undesirable, like vermin and weeds. The primary purpose of slavery in America was exploitation; the primary purpose of Nazi and Soviet camps was extermination of declared enemies. American Indians, on the other hand, were exterminated as enemies (and confined to reservations), but were not turned into slaves. The highly organized mass murder of the 20th century seems to be unique.

2.2 Sad Songs

. . . Indoctrination via songs was often very effcient. Many Soviet people loved Stalin and were happy to follow him. Heroes, like Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, died while chanting his name. This eighteen-year old girl, sent to fight Germans in the occupied territories, was captured, and hanged. Zoya's last words, according to her mother,(14) were “Farewell Comrades! Fight, do not be afraid! Stalin is with us! Stalin will come!” Many followers knew about the dark side of Soviet reality; some of them were children of Stalin's victims, and most of them had relatives who perished in his concentration camps. How can one understand such things?

2.3 Two Wings Of One Satan

" . . . Red crematoria and winter-white crematoria. 'Wernichtungslager Auschwitz' - and 'Uprawlenije Sewierowostocznych Isprawitelno-Trudowych Lagerej - Kolyma'. Abandon all hope! One does not return from Kolyma either. Kolyma is the same government secret as Auschwitz used to be. Camps and camps, barbed wires, degenerate capos. Here 'Strafcomando' there 'Strafcommandirowka', the same name, the same nature of things. ... Comparisons and analogies multiply in my mind. There can be nothing worse, I say to myself. But what about Kolyma? If Satan has wings then these are the wings of one Satan! Nothing can be worse than Kolyma. And what about Auschwitz? Milions are covered under two wings of Satan, they suffered and they suffer, they bled and they bleed, they endure, they rot, and death is their liberation. I am making a horrible discovery: There is no end of human suffering."

2.4 Other Comparisons

How can I avoid making more comparisons? They could not have been made in 1950. The evil empire of Hitler was destroyed from outside, the evil empire of Stalin was destroyed by his own followers; its downfall was triggered by reforms introduced by Khrushchev, Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Leading Nazi criminals were judged in Nuremberg and punished. How does this compare with the liquidation of Beria, and of his collaborators? The SS camp commanders, and other Nazi criminals, had to hide, often in far away countries and under new names. This did not happen to their counterparts in Russia. Economic conditions in West Germany improved rapidly after Hitler's fall while economic conditions in the post-Stalinist Russia did not improve until very recently.

There is a recent book (15) about how German people cope with the legacy of Hitler's crimes. It analyzes the trauma of those who lived in the Third Reich and those who learned about mass killings from textbooks. Are there similar books analyzing attitudes of people from the ex-Soviet Union countries? How do Russians, and others, view Stalin's crimes? Do they learn about them in high school? How do they debate them? What is similar and what is different in attitudes of German and Russian students toward their country's history of mass killing?

An article by Mark Kramer entitled "Why Soviet History Matters in Russia" was distributed recently (January 2001) over the Internet. The author is the Director of the Harvard Project on Cold War Studies and a Senior Associate at the Davis Center for Russian Studies, Harvard University. He writes: "The task of confronting unpleasant historical episodes is diffcult for any country, even the long-established democracies. The Germans had a term for this process after World War II, Vergangenheitsbewltigung, but it was not until the 1960s and afterward that most Germans truly acknowledged the enormity of Nazi Germany's crimes.

In France today, many citizens are still reluctant to look closely at the Vichy period; in Austria many people still pretend that their country was a victim of Nazi aggression; and in Japan political leaders still frequently downplay the atrocities committed by Japanese troops in China, Korea, and Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s. In the United States, too, many tragic aspects of history--the enslavement of blacks, the campaigns against American Indians, and the internment of Japanese-Americans at the start of World War II--have often been glossed over. Diffcult as the process of historical reckoning may be for these Western countries, it is even more onerous in Russia. . . . "

Innocent people became victims of murderous ideologies. In my opinion, Germans and Austrians were no less victims of Nazism than Russians and Poles were victims of Communism. The wings of Satan were peculiar ideologies. A well known Polish philosopher, Leszek Kolakowski, wrote several books about Soviet ideology. Some of his ideas are presented in a later chapter.

2.5 Volodia And His Father

It is well known that deteriorating economic conditions create fertile grounds for dictatorial leaders, as in Germany (after WWI) or in the Soviet Union (after civil war). Desperate people are willing to support dictators. Let me illustrate this with the present situation in Magadan. A Polish journalist traveled there in the late 1990's and his observations are described in (16). . . .

2.6 Was Volodia's Father Right?

Was Volodia's father (quoted in the above section) correct about Stalin's motivations? This question can best be answered by reading what Stalin wrote about terror. I am not aware of statements in which an increase in productivity was used to justify brutality. But I recall many statements in which terror was justified as an instrument of political struggle. For example, in 1939 he wrote that struggle with the enemies of proletarian revolution must intensify: “But the revolution will not be able to crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie, to maintain its victory and to push forward to the final victory of socialism unless, at a certain stage in its development, it creates a special organ in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat as its principal mainstay (17)."

The organ became known as NKVD, and as its successor, KGB. The label bourgeoisie applied indiscriminately to all those whose loyalty was uncertain. According to Khrushchev (18) “Stalin was a very distrustful man, morbidly suspicious; we knew this from our work with him.... The sickly suspicion created in him a general distrust even toward eminent party workers whom he had known for years. Everywhere and in everything he saw enemies, ‘two-facers' and spies." During Stalin's life about 80% of gulag prisoners were political. Most of them were intellectuals (architects, composers, engineers, writers, scientists, etc.) who were highly productive in their own fields. Eliminating such people harmed the economy, instead of helping it. The “supreme leader" of the Soviet Union was personally aware that excessive brutality and productivity were in conflict. And yet he advocated excesses. The first director of Dalstroy, Berzin, was killed for making productivity his first priority. After he was liquidated in 1938, "elimination of the enemies of people " became the first priority in Kolyma as it already was in the rest of the country.

2.7 A Painter Remembers

Nikolai Getman, a Soviet painter imprisoned in Kolyma (after WWII), produced fifty paintings based on his experience. These pictures can be seen at the webside of The Jamestown Foundation:


Each picture has an interesting caption; I strongly recommend the gallery of Getman's paintings to all readers. . . .

. . . .

"Modern slaves mining gold in USSR. Painted by Getman"

2.8 Returning From The Spanish Civil War

It is well known that both Germany and the Soviet Union participated in the Spanish Civil War. Hitler's specialists assisted Nationalists while Stalin's specialists assisted Republicans. German experts were probably received home as heroes. Hitler already had plans for them. But reception for Soviet military experts was often very different. Many of them became victims of Stalin's terror. An interesting episode, found in (19), describes a Soviet fighter returning home after the war ended. Is this 1937 episode, real or is it only very realistic? "...Colonel Ilya Starinov was coming home to Leningrad from Barcelona after a year training Spanish Republicans in mine warfare. . . . "

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