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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 Three, Books IV-VII

1941: "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 inmates, 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." p.17

The Germans discovered mass graves in 1943: "In June they began digging near the Orthodox cemetery [in Vinnitsa, Ukraine] and discovered another forty-two graves. Next the Gorky 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.... After viewing these corpses, were the population supposed to rush off and join the partisans?" p.19

Of the Russian prisoners of war who joined the Vlasov army to aid the Germans: "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 Bolshevik, 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 the time blinded Western eyes to all else. p.28

Gulag escapees on the run: makhmadera = "stop asking--and grab!" Kazakh yurt: a well, no bucket, a saddled horse tied to a post, a narrow opening, illuminated by an oil lamp. "Salaam!" Low round table. Benches covered with felt. A big metal-bound chest. Kazakh male sullen. Kazakh terms: beshbarmak = meat dish. aksakal = "white beard" (term of respect). yok = there is none. Threatens guests with a whip, prods him with whip handle. Kumiss = fermented mare's or camel's milk, in jugs. Dried mutton in a "meat safe." baursaki = deep-fried lumps of dough. Geese. pp. 162-164, 534.

"a dead and deserted Kazakh village" (1930-1933 left ruined villages dotted around Kazakhstan, first the Soviet cavalry, then famine. p. 165

cut a stick to hunt gophers and jerboas, which he killed by flinging it at them as they sat by their burrows; sucked their blood and roasted the meat on a fire of dry steppe gorse. Kazakh horseman in a big red-brown fur hat. shashlik = shish kabob, grilled on a stick. Kazakhs use the lasso. pp. 197-198 "Hunting bipeds! A man's life for a kilogram of tea!" p.198 Kazakh carrying a hunting rifle p.217

Postwar: a private in the MVD troops earned 230 rubles/month, twelve times army pay. In the polar regions, 400 rubles and all expenses. p.222

"Humanity probably invented exile first and prison later. Expulsion from the tribe was of course exile. We were quick to realize how difficult it is for a man to exist, divorced from his own place, his familiar environment. Everything is wrong and awkward, everything is temporary and unreal, even if there are green woods around, not permafrost." In Russia, government policy since 1648. "But even earlier, at the end of the sixteenth century, people were exiled without legal sanction.... Our great spaces gave their blessing--Siberia was ours already." p.335

"Emptiness. Helplessness. A life that is no life at all." p.340

The peasants who were deported and starved to death in the 1930s: "This chapter will deal with a small matter. Fifteen million souls. Fifteen million lives.
They weren't educated people, of course. They couldn't play the violin. They didn't know who Meyerhold was, or how interesting it is to be a nuclear physicist." p.350

"In the war and postwar years, the exile system steadily grew in capacity and importance together with the camps. It required no expenditure on the construction of huts and boundary fences, on guards and warders, and there was room in its capacious embrace for big batches, especially those including women and children.... Exile made possible a speedy, reliable, and irreversible cleansing of any important region of the 'mainland.'" p.369

"In the kolkhoz, exiles are always badly off--no regulation clothing, no camp ration. There is no more dreadful place of exile than the kolkhoz." p.378 "The more remote the farm, the worse things were; the wilder the place, the fewer the exile's rights." Essentially a slave to the Kazakh overseer. Months could go by without seeing a Russian with authority to intervene. p.379

"In 1937 some tens of thousands of those suspicious Koreans ... were swiftly and quietly transferred from the [Russian] Far East to Kazakhstan." They were early settlers and more recent ones fleeing the Japanese occupation of Korea. p.386-387

"Total ruin was an experience reserved for those special settlers who were sent to collective farms." One Baltic exile got twenty grams of grain per workday and fifteen kopecks, which suffice in one year to buy an aluminim bowl. "What, you ask, did they live on? Why, on parcels from the Baltic States." p.398

Of the various populations in Kazakhstan, the Germans were most industrious and prosperous. The Greeks had the best dairy products and vegetables. The Koreans obtained educations and became teachers etc. p.401

When he was "released" into exile, but for the first few days was still locked up. "It differed from jail only in hat for those few days we were no longer fed free of charge, but had to pay for food to be brought from the market." p.414

"The steppe sped by, kilometer after kilometer. To right and to left, as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but harsh gray inedible grass, and only very occasionally a wretched Kazakh village framed with trees." Dogs. Donkeys. "a camel turned slowly and contemptuously to look at us."
"Past the district stores, the tearoom, the clinic, the soviet offices, the district Party headquarters with its slated roof, the House of Culture under its reed thatch." p.415

Wherever you looked, "there was lawlessness aggravated by ignorance, barbaric conceit, and smug clannishness." p.432

In the 1950s he encountered "certain very lonely old [Polish] men and women from the Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussa--the meekest and unhappiest people in the world. They cheered up greatly after the [1953] amnesty, and waited to be sent home. But some two months later came the usual heartless clarification: inasmuch as they had been exiled (ater having served their time in the camps and without trial) not for five years but in perpetuity, the previous five-year term of imprisonment which had led to their exile did not count, and they were not covered by the amnesty." pp 438-439

"Each year on the anniversary of my arrest I organize myself a 'zek's day': in the morning I cut off 650 grams of bread, put two lumps of sugar in a cup and pour hot water on them. For lunch I ask them to make me some broth and a ladeful of thin mush. And how quickly I get back to my old form: by the end of the day I am already picking up crumbs to put in my mouth, and licking the bowl." p.461

Says on old zek: "the pictures of the past ... are by no means all dark and harrowing; we have many warm and pleasant memories." AS: "In our day, if you get a letter completely free from self-pity, genuinely optimistic--it can only be from a former zek. They are used to the worst the world can do, and nothing can depress them." p.462

"Which is the dream, which is the ignis fatuus--the past? or the present?" p.466

""All you freedom-loving 'left-wing' thinkers in the West! You left laborites! You progressive American, German, and French students! As far as you are concerned, none of this amounts to much. As far as you are concerned, this book of mine is a waste of effort. You may suddenly understand it all someday--but only when you yourselves hear 'hands behind your backs there!' and step ashore on our Archipelago." p.518

bluecaps: from the light-blue band that distinguishes the NKVD uniform cap. p.534

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