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The Gulag Archipelago

The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (New York: Harper Row 1973-1974)

This book is a masterpiece, but like many (most? all?) masterpieces it is a bit of a slog, nearly two thousand pages as published by Harper Row in the 1970s. So I have linked instead to the abridged edition, a mere 528 pages. Besides, the originals are mostly out of print; look for them at your nearest research library.

Volume Two, Books III-IV

The Belomor Canal, 1931-1933: "Stalin simply needed a geat construction project somewhere which would devour many working hands and many lives (the surplus of people as a result of the liquidation of the kulaks), with the reliability of a gas execution van but more cheaply, and which would at the same time leave a great monument to his reign of the same general sort as the pyramids." p.86

"That's what our gas execution van looked like. We didn't have any gas for the gas chamber." p.91

"They say that in the first winter, 1931-1932, 100,000 died off--a number equal to the number of those who made up the full working force on the canal." p.98

At the amnesty in 1941: "One hundred and eighty-six Poles were released from [the gold-mining camp at] Zolotisty out of 2,100 brought there a year before." p.131n

"Sikorski displeased Stalin, and in one night they seized thirty Polish women at Elgen [in the far north] and took them off and shot them." p.134

"... the need was manpower:
a. Cheap in the extreme, and better still--for free.
b. Undemanding, capable of being shifted about from place to place any day of the week, free of family ties, not requiring either established housing, or schools, or hospitals, or even, for a certain length of time, kitchens and baths.
It was possible to obtain such manpower only by swallowing up one's sons." p.143 (And, of course, the sons of others.)

"And the life of the natives [in the Archipelago] consists of work, work, work; of starvation, cold, and cunning." p.198

"And on their feet the tried and true Russian 'lapti'--bast sandals--except that they had no decent 'onuchi'--footclothes--to go with them. Or else they might have a piece of old automobile tire, tied right on the bare foot with a wire, an electric cord. (Grief has its own inventiveness....) Or else there were 'felt boots'--'burki'--put together from pieces of old, torn-up padded jackets, with soles made of a thick layer of felt and a layer of rubber." p.205

"If one has no other youth but youth in camp then ... one has to be gay there too, where else?" p.237

"The big, white, bloated lice reminded you of plump suckling piglets. And when you crushed them, they splashed your face, and your nails were covered with ichor." p.385

"The hostility of the surrounding population, encouraged by the authorities, became the principal hindrance to escape.... And the nationalities inhabiting the area around Gulag gradually came to assume that the capture of a fugitive meant a holiday, enrichment, that it was like a good hunt or like finding a small gold nugget. The Tungus, the Komis, and the Kazakhs were paid off in flour and tea ... and several pounds of herring. During the war years there was no other way to get herring, and local inhabitants simply nicknamed the fugitives herrings." p.396

"Who, except prisoners, would have worked at logging ten hours a day, in addition to marching four miles through the woods in predawn darkness and the same distance back at night, in a temperature of minus 20, and knowing in a year no other rest days than May 1 and November 7?....
And who other than the Archipelago natives would have grubbed out stumps in winter? Or hauled on their backs the boxes of mined ore in the open goldfields of the Kolyma? Or have dragged cut timber a half-mile from the Koin River ... through deep snow on Finnish timber-sledge runners, harnessed up in pairs in a horse collar[?]" p. 579

"So many millions of people agreed to become stool pigeons. And, after all, if some forty to fifty million people served long sentences in the Archipelago during the course of the thirty-five years up to 1953 [i.e., during Stalin's reign] ... --and this is a modest estimate, being only three or four times the population of Gulag at any one time, and, after all, during the war the death rate there was running one percent per day--then we can assume that at lest every third or at least every fifth case was the consequence of somebody's denunication and that somebody was willing to provide evidence as a witness!" p.642

Soviet Russia under Stalin: "So there in that stinking damp world in which only executioners and the most blatant of betrayers flourished, while those who remained honest became drunkards, since they had no strength of will for anything else, n which the bodies of young people were bronzed by the sun while their souls petrified inside, in which every night the gray-green hand reached out to collar someone in order to pop him into a box--in that world millions of women wandered about lost and blinded, whose husbands, sons, or fathers had been torn from them and dispatched to the Archipelago." pp. 653-654

continued in part 3

Look for the abridged one-volume edition at Amazon.com.