Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s important 200 Years Together has
unfortunately not been translated into English. However, this process is now
beginning with the posting of Chapter
20, “In the Camps of GULag.” [
http://www.ethnopoliticsonline.com/archives/ais/ais%20chapter20.html ] As the title suggests, the chapter
discusses the role of Jews in the Gulag. There are several important themes.
Despite apologetic claims by Jews, in fact
Jews lived better in the camps. Obviously, it’s a touchy subject–just like
everything else about the role of Jews in the Soviet Union.
If I wished to generalize
and state that the life of Jews in camps was especially difficult, then I
would be allowed to do so and wouldn’t be peppered with admonitions for
unjust ethnic generalizations. But in the camps, where I was imprisoned, it
was the other way around – the life of Jews, to the extent of possible
generalization, was easier.
Jews also looked out for each other–yet
another example of ethnic networking. Free Jews were often in positions of
authority and they favored their own people. For example:
A Lett Ane Bernstein, one of my
witnesses from Archipelago, thinks that he managed to survive in
the camps only because in times of hardship he asked Jews for help and that
the Jews, judging by his last name and nimble manners, mistook him for their
tribesman – and always provided assistance. He says that in all his camps
Jews always constituted the upper crust and that the most important free
employees were also Jews (Shulman – head of special department, Greenberg –
head of camp station, Kegels – chief mechanic of the factory), and,
according to his recollections, they also preferred to select Jewish inmates
to staff their units.
The few Jews who did share in the common
labor did so out of principle–in order to avoid the stereotype of Jews who did
not work. They were rewarded for their efforts by being rejected by “both
sides” — indicating that everyone in the camps was aware of the ethnic
divide–just as American prisons are organized along ethnic fault lines. But
Solzhenitsyn optimistically describes Jews who countered the common
tendencies: “I try not to overlook such examples, because all my hopes depend
Nevertheless, the resentment and hatred of
the Jewish position in the camps was real. Solzhenitsyn realizes that all
humans are prone to these tendencies, but he also understands that the ethnic
divide exacerbated the “heavy resentment”:
When an alien emerges as a “master
over life and death” – it further adds to the heavy resentment. It might
appear strange – isn’t it all the same for a worthless negligable, crushed,
and doomed camp dweller surviving at one of his dying stages – isn’t it all
the same who exactly seized the power inside the camp and celebrates crow’s
picnics over his trench-grave? As it turns out – it is not, it has etched
into my memory inerasably.
The Russians did not show ethnic networking
and accordingly suffered. Notice that he sees the mass murder involved in
collectivization as a personal loss to his ethnic group.
Those who know about terrific
Jewish mutual supportiveness (especially exacerbated by mass deaths of Jews
under Hitler) would understand that a free Jewish boss simply could not
indifferently watch Jewish prisoners flounder in starvation and die – and
not to help. But I am unable to imagine a free Russian employee who would
save and promote his fellow Russian prisoners to the privileged positions
only because of their nationality, though we have lost 15 millions during
collectivization: we are numerous, you can’t care about everyone, and nobody
would even think about it.
White Sea canal, completed in 1933,
has gone down in history as a particularly brutal forced labor
project in which thousands of workers died. Solzhenitsyn points out that all
six of the people in charge of the project were Jews:
Genrikh Yagoda, head of NKVD.
Matvei Berman, head of GULag.
Semen Firin, commander of
BelBaltlag (by that time he was already the commander of Dmitlag, where the
story will later repeat itself).
Lazar Kogan, head of construction
(later he will serve the same function at Volgocanal).
Jacob Rapoport, deputy head of
Naftaly Frenkel, chief manager of the labor force
of Belomorstroi (and the evil daemon of the whole Archipelago)
Solzhenitsyn’s observations fit well with
the findings of historians like
Yuri Slezkine showing that Jews were a political and cultural
elite in the Soviet Union. Slezkine draws special attention to Jews as
supervising the greatest crimes of the 20th century.
Throughout the chapter Solzhenitsyn’s brutal honesty shines through. He bends
over backward to give examples of Jews who behaved in ways contrary to the
general tendencies he and others observed. Nevertheless, he recounts how he
was often accused of anti-Semitism simply for recording his observations. It’s
okay to depict an evil person as a Russian, but never identify him as a Jew.
Solzhenitsyn’s observations add to the growing evidence of the role of Jews as
a hostile elite in the USSR–hostile to the native Russian population and
willing to engage in the most brutal crimes against them. This translation is
very important for bringing this message to the English-speaking world, if
only to dispel the common representation of Jews as always and inevitably
White Americans should think long and hard about what these observations imply
for them as they become a minority in a country dominated by hostile
minorities, including Jews as a hostile elite.
If I haven’t been there, it wouldn't be possible for me to
compose this chapter.
Before the camps I thought that “one should not notice
nationalities”, that there are no nationalities, there is only humankind.
But when you are sent into the camp, you find it out: if you
are of a lucky nationality then you are a fortunate man. You are provided for.
You have survived! But if you are of a common nationality – well then, no
Because nationality is perhaps the most important trait that
gives a prisoner a chance to be picked into the life-saving corps of “Idiots”
[translator note: from Russian "придурок" - a fool or idiot. This is
an inmate slang term to denote other inmates who didn't do common labor but
managed to obtain positions with easy duties, usually pretending to be incapable
of doing hard work because of poor health]. Every experienced camp
inmate can confirm that ethnic proportions among Idiots were very
different from those in the general camp population. Indeed, there were
virtually no Pribalts among Idiots, regardless of their actual number in the
camp (and there were many of them); there were always Russians, of course, but
in incomparably smaller proportion than in the camp on average (and those were
often selected from orthodox members of the Party); on the other hand,
some others were noticeably concentrated – Jews, Georgians, Armenians; and
Azeris also ended there in higher proportions, and, to some extent, Caucasian
Certainly, none of them can be blamed for that. Every nation
in the Gulag did its best crawling to survival, and the smaller and nimbler it
was, the easier it was to accomplish. And again, Russians were the very last
nation in “their own Russian camps”, like they were in the German
Yet it is not us who could have blamed them, but it is they –
Armenians, Georgians, highlanders, who would have been in their right to ask us:
“Why did you establish these camps? Why do you force us to live in your state?
Do not hold us and we will not land here and occupy these such attractive
Idiotic positions! But while we are your prisoners – a la guerre comme a
But what about Jews? For Fate interwove Russian and Jews,
perhaps forever, which is why this book is being written.
Before that, before this very line, there will be readers who
have been in the camps and who haven’t been, who will be quick to contest the
truth of what I say here. They will claim that many Jews were forced to take
part in common labor activities. They will deny that there were camps
where Jews were the majority among Idiots. They will indignantly reject
that nations in the camps were helping each other selectively, and, therefore,
at the expense of others.
Some others will not consider themselves as distinct "Jews"
at all, perceiving themselves as Russians in everything. Besides, even if there
was overrepresentation of Jews on key camp positions, it was absolutely
unpremeditated, wasn’t it? The selection was exclusively based on merit and
personal talents and abilities to do business. Well, who is to blame if Russians
lack business talents?
There will be also those who will passionately assert directly
opposite: that it was Jews who suffered worst in the camps. This is exactly how
it is understood in the West: in Soviet camps nobody suffered as badly as Jews.
Among the letters from readers of Ivan Denisovich there was one from an
anonymous Jew: “You have met innocent Jews who languished in camps with you, and
you obviously not at once witnessed their suffering and persecution. They
endured double oppression: imprisonment and enmity from the rest of inmates.
Tell us about these people!”
And if I wished to generalize and state that the life
of Jews in camps was especially difficult, then I would be allowed to do so and
wouldn’t be peppered with admonitions for unjust ethnic generalizations. But in
the camps, where I was imprisoned, it was the other way around – the life of
Jews, to the extent of possible generalization, was easier.
Semen Badash, my campmate from Ekibastuz, recounts in his
memoirs how he had managed to settle – later, in a camp at Norilsk – in the
medical unit: Max Minz asked a radiologist Laslo Newsbaum to solicit for Badash
before a free head of the unit. He was accepted (1). But Badash at least
finished three years of medical school before imprisonment. Compare that with
other nurses – Genkin, Gorelik, Gurevich (like one of my pals, L. Kopelev from
Unzlag) – who never before in their lives had anything to do with medicine.
Some people absolutely seriously write like this: A. Belinkov
“was thrown into the most despicable category of Idiots…” (and I am
tempted to inappropriately add “and languishers” here, though the
“Languishers” were the social antipodes of Idiots and Belinkov never
was among the Languishers). – “To be thrown into the group of Idiots”!
– what’s an expression! “To be diminished by being accepted into the ranks of
gentlemen”? And here goes the justification: “To dig soil? But at the age of 23
he not only never did it – he never saw a shovel in his life”. Well then he had
no other choice but to become an Idiot.
Or read what Levitin-Krasnov wrote about one Pinsky, a
literature expert, that he was a nurse in the camp. Which means that he, on the
camp scale, has adhered well. However, Levitin presents this as an example of
the greatest humiliation possible for a professor of the humanities.
Or take prisoner who survived, Lev Razgon, a journalist and
not a medic at all, who was heavily published afterwards. But from his story in
“Ogonek” (1988) we find that he used to be a medic in the camp’s medical unit,
and, moreover, an unescorted medic. (From other his stories we can figure
out that he also worked as a senior controller at a horrible timber logging
station. But there is not a single story from which we can conclude that he ever
participated in common labor.)
Or a story of Frank Dikler, a Jew from faraway Brazil: he was
imprisoned and couldn’t speak Russian, of course, and guess what? He had pull in
the camp, and he has became a chief of the medical unit’s kitchen – a truly
Or Alexandr Voronel, who was a ”political youngster” when he
landed in the camps, says that immediately after getting in the camp, he was
“readily assisted… by other Jewish inmates, who had not a slightest idea about
my political views”. A Jewish inmate, responsible for running the bathhouse (a
very important Idiot as well), has spotted him instantly and “ordered him
to come if he needs any help”; a Jew from prisoner security (also an Idiot)
told another Jew, a brigadier: “There are two Jewish guys, Hakim, don’t allow
them to get in trouble”. And the brigadier gave them strong protection. “Other
thieves, especially “elders”, approved him: You are so right, Hakim! You support
your own kin! Yet we, Russians, are like wolves to each other”” (3).
And let’s not forget that even during camp imprisonment, by
virtue of a common stereotype regarding all Jews as businessmen, many
of them were getting commercial offers, sometimes even when they didn't actively
look for such enterprises. Take, for instance, M. Hafez. He emphatically notes:
“What a pity that I can’t describe you those camp situations. There are so many
rich, beautiful stories! However, the ethical code of a “reliable Jew" seals my
mouth. You know even the smallest commercial secret should be kept forever.
That’s the law of the Tribe” (4).
A Lett Ane Bernstein, one of my witnesses from Archipelago,
thinks that he managed to survive in the camps only because in times of hardship
he asked the Jews for help and that the Jews, judging
by his last name and nimble manners, mistook him for their tribesman – and always provided assistance.
He says that in all his camps Jews always constituted the upper crust, and that
the most important free employees were also Jews (Shulman – head of special
department, Greenberg – head of camp station, Kegels – chief mechanic of the
factory), and, according to his recollections, they also preferred to select
Jewish inmates to staff their units.
This particular Jewish national contract between free bosses
and inmates is impossible to overlook. A free Jew was not so stupid to actually
see an “Enemy of the People” or an evil character preying on “the people’s
in an imprisoned Jew (unlike
what a dumb-headed Russian saw in another Russian). He in the first place saw a
suffering tribesman – and I praise them for this sobriety! Those who know about
terrific Jewish mutual supportiveness (especially exacerbated by mass deaths of
Jews under Hitler) would understand that a free Jewish boss simply could not
indifferently watch Jewish prisoners flounder in starvation and die, and not
help. But I am unable to imagine a free Russian employee who would save and
promote his fellow Russian prisoners to the privileged positions only because of
their nationality. Though we have lost 15 millions during collectivization, we
are still numerous. You can’t care about everyone, and nobody would even think
Sometimes, when such a team of Jewish inmates smoothly bands
together and, being no longer impeded by the ferocious struggle for survival,
they can engage in extraordinary activities. An engineer named Abram Zisman
tells us: "In Novo-Archangelsk camp, in our spare time, [we] decided to count
how many Jewish pogroms occurred over the course of Russian history. We managed
to excite the curiosity of our camp
command on this question (they had a peaceful attitude toward us). The
Nachlag [camp commander] was captain Gremin (N. Gershel, a Jew, son of a
tailor from Zhlobin). He sent an inquiry to the archives of the former Interior
Department requesting the necessary information, and after eight months we
received an official reply that … 76 Jewish pogroms occurred from 1811 to 1917
on the territory of Russia with the number of victims estimated at approximately 3,000” (That is,
the total number of those who suffered in any way.) The author reminds us
that during one six-month period in medieval Spain more
than twenty thousand Jews were killed (5).
A plot-like atmosphere emanates from the recollections of
Josef Berger, a communist, about a highly-placed snitch Lev Ilyich Inzhir. A
former Menshevik, arrested in 1930, he immediately began collaborating with the
GPU, fearing reprisals against his family and the loss of his apartment in the
center of Moscow. He “helped to prepare the Menshevik trial” of 1931, falsely
testified against his best friends, was absolved and immediately appointed as a
chief accountant of Belomorstroi. During the Yezhovschina he was a chief
accountant of the GULag “enjoying the complete trust of his superiors and with
connections to the very top NKVD officials”. (Inzhir recalled one “Jewish NKVD
veteran who interlarded his words with aphorisms from Talmud”.) He was arrested
later again, this time on the wave of anti-Yezhov purges. However, Inzhir’s
former colleagues from the GULag favorably arranged his imprisonment. However,
at this point he turned into an explicit ”snitch and provocateur”, and other
inmates suspected that the plentiful parcels he was receiving were not from his
relatives but directly from the Third Department. Nevertheless, later in 1953 in
the Tayshet camp, he was sentenced to an additional jail term, this time being
accused of Trotskyism and of concealing his “sympathies for the State of Israel”
from the Third Department (6).
Of worldwide infamy, BelBallag absorbed hundreds of thousands
of Russian, Ukrainian and Middle Asian peasants between 1931 and 1932. Opening a
newspaper issue from August, 1933, dedicated to the completion of the
canal [between White and Baltic seas] ,
we find a list of awardees. Lower ranking orders and medals were awarded to
concreters, steel fixers, etc, but the highest degree of decoration, the Order of
Lenin, was awarded to eight men only, and we can see large photographs of each.
Only two of them were actual engineers, the rest were the chief commanders of
the canal (according to Stalin’s understanding of personal contribution). And
whom do we see here? Genrikh Yagoda, head of NKVD. Matvei Berman, head of GULag.
Semen Firin, commander of BelBaltlag (by that time he was already the commander
of Dmitlag, where the story will later repeat itself). Lazar Kogan, head of
construction (later he will serve the same function at Volgocanal). Jacob
Rapoport, deputy head of construction. Naftaly Frenkel, chief manager of the
labor force of Belomorstroi (and the evil demon of the whole Archipelago) (7).
And all their portraits were enlarged and reprinted again in
the solemnly shameful book Belomorcanal (8) – a book of huge
Scriptural size, like some revelation anticipating advent of the Millenarian
And then I reproduced these six portraits of villains in
Archipelago, borrowing them from their own exhibition and without any prior
editing, showing everybody who was originally displayed. Oh my God, what a
worldwide rage has surged! How dared I?! This is anti-Semitism! I am a
branded and screwed anti-Semite. At best, to reproduce these portraits was
“national egotism” – i.e. Russian egotism! And they dared to say it despite what
follows immediately on the next pages of Archipelago: how docilely
“Kulak” lads were freezing to death under their barrows.
One wonders, where were their eyes in 1933 when it was printed
for the very first time?
Let me repeat what I professed once to the Bolsheviks: one
should be ashamed of hideosity not when it is disclosed to public but when it is
A particular conundrum exists with respect to the personality
of Naftaly Frenkel, that tireless demon of Archipelago: how to explain
his strange return from Turkey in 1920's? He successfully got away from Russia
with all his capitals after the first harbingers of revolution. In Turkey, he
attained a secure, rich and unconstrained social standing, and he never harbored
any Communist ideas. And yet he returned? To come back and become a toy for the
GPU and for Stalin, to spend several years in imprisonment himself, but in
return to accomplish the most ruthless oppression of imprisoned engineers and
the extermination of hundreds of thousands of the “de-Kulakized”? What could
have motivated his insatiable evil heart? I am unable to imagine any possible
reason except vengeance toward Russia. If anyone can provide an alternative
explanation, please do so (9).
What else could be revealed by someone with a thorough
understanding of the structure of the camp command? The head of 1st Department
of Belomorstroi was one Wolf; the head of the Dmitrov section of Volgocanal was
Bovshover. The finance division of Belomorstroi was headed by L. Berenzon, his
deputies were A. Dorfman, the already mentioned Inzhir, Loevetsky, Kagner,
Angert. And how many of the other humbler posts remain unmentioned? Is it really
reasonable to suppose that Jews were digging soil with shovels and racing their
hand-barrows and dying under those barrows from exhaustion and emaciation? Well,
view it as you wish. A. P. Skripnikova and D. P. Vitkovsky, who were there, told
me that Jews were overrepresented among Idiots during construction of
Belomorcanal, and they did not roll barrows and did not die under them.
And you could find highly-placed Jewish commanders not only at
BelBaltlag. Construction of the Kotlas-Vorkuta railroad was headed by Moroz (his
son married Svetlana Stalina); the special officer-in-charge of GULag in the Far
East was Grach. These are only a few of the names, which resurfaced
accidentally. If a former inmate Thomas Sgovio, an American national, didn't
write to me, I wouldn’t be aware about the head of the Chai-Uryinsk Mining
Administration on Kolyma between 1943-44 (at the depths of the Patriotic War):
“Half-colonel Arm was a tall black-haired Jew with a terrible reputation… His
orderly man was selling ethanol to everybody, 50 grams for 50 rubles. Arm had
his own personal tutor of English – a young American, arrested in Karelia. His
wife was paid a salary for an accountant’s position, but she didn’t work – her
job was actually performed by an inmate in the office” (a common practice
revealing how families of GULag commanders used to have additional incomes).
Or take another case: during the age of glasnost, one
Soviet newspaper published a story about the dreadful GULag administration that
built a tunnel between Sakhalin and the mainland. It was called the “Trust of
Arais” (10). Who was that comrade Arais? I have no idea. But how many perished
in his mines and in the unfinished tunnel?
Sure, I knew a number of Jews (they were my friends) who
carried all the hardships of common labor. In Archipelago, I described a
young man, Boris Gammerov, who quickly found his death in the camp. (While his
friend, the writer Ingal, was made an accountant from the very first day in the
camp, although his knowledge of arithmetic was very poor.) I knew Volodya
Gershuni, an irreconcilable and incorruptible man. I knew Jog Masamed, who did
common labor in the hard labor camp at Ekibastuz on principle
It is so symbolic! Both Efroimson and Grodzenskiy did those
right and best things, which could be only motivated by the noblest of Jewish
appeals, to honestly share the common lot, and they were not understood by
either side! They are always difficult and derided – the paths of austerity and
dedication, the only ones that can save humanity.
I try not to overlook such examples, because all my hopes
depend on them.
Let’s add here a valiant Gersh Keller, one of the leaders of
Kengir uprising in 1954 (he was 30 years old when executed). I also read about
Yitzhak Kaganov, commander of an artillery squadron during the Soviet-German
war. In 1948, he was sentenced to 25 years for Zionism. During 7 years of
imprisonment he wrote 480 pieces of poetry in Hebrew, which he memorized without
writing them down (11).
During his third trial (July 10, 1978), after already serving
two terms, Alexander Ginsburg, was asked a question “What is your nationality?”
and replied: “Inmate!” That was a worthy and serious response, and it angered
the tribunal. But he deserved it for his work for the Russian Public Relief
Fund, which provided assistance to families of political prisoners of all
nationalities, and by his manly vocation. This is what we are – a genuine
breed of prisoners, regardless of nationality.
However, my camps were different, – spanning from the “great”
Belomor to the tiny 121st camp district of the 15th OLP of Moscow’s UITLK (which
left behind a not inconspicuous semi-circular building at Kaluga’s gate in
Moscow). Out there, our entire life was directed and trampled by three leading
Idiots: Solomon Solomonov, a chief accountant; David Burstein, first an
“educator” and later a work-assigning clerk; and Isaac Bershader. (Earlier, in
exactly the same way, Solomonov and Bershader ruled over the camp at the Moscow
Highway Institute, MHI.) Note that all this happened under auspices of a Russian
camp commander, one ensign Mironov.
All three of them came up before my eyes, and to get positions
for them, in each case their Russian predecessors were instantly removed from
the posts. Solomonov was sent in first; he confidently seized a proper position
and quickly got on the right side of the ensign. (I think, using food and money
from outside.) Soon after that the wretched Bershader was sent in from MHI with
an accompanying note “to use him only in the common labor category” (a quite
unusual situation for a domestic criminal, which probably meant substantial
delinquency). He was about fifty years old, short, fat, with a baleful glare. He
walked around condescendingly inspecting our living quarters, with the look of a
general from the head department.
The senior proctor asked him: “What is your
specialty?” – “Storekeeper”. – “There is no such specialty” – “Well, I am a
storekeeper”. – “Anyway, you are going to work in the common labor brigade”. For
two days he was sent there. Shrugging his shoulders, he went out, and, upon
entering the work zone, he used to seat himself on a stone and rest respectably.
The brigadier would have hit him, but he quailed – the newcomer was so
self-confident, that anyone could sense power behind him. The camp’s
storekeeper, Sevastyanov, was depressed as well. For two years he was in charge
of the combined provision and sundry store. He was firmly established and lived
on good terms with the brass, but now he was chilled: everything is already
settled! Bershader is a “storekeeper by specialty”!
Then the medical unit discharged Bershader from the labor
duties on grounds of “poor health” and after that he rested in the living
quarters. Meanwhile, he probably got something from outside. And within less
than a week Sevastyanov was removed from his post, and Bershader was made a
storekeeper (with the assistance of Solomonov). However, at this point it was
found that the physical labor of pouring grain and rearranging boots, which was
done by Sevastyanov single-handedly, was also contraindicated for Bershader. So
he was given a henchman, and Solomonov’s bookkeeping office enlisted the latter
as service personnel. But it was still not a sufficiently abundant life. The
best looking proudest woman of the camp, the swan-like lieutenant-sniper M.
was bent to his will and forced to visit him in his store-room in the evenings.
After Burstein showed himself in the camp, he arranged to have another camp
beauty, A. S., to come to his cubicle.
Is it difficult to read this? But they were by no means
troubled how it looked from outside. It even seemed as if they thickened the
impression on purpose. And how many such little camps with similar
establishments were there all across the Archipelago?
And did Russian Idiots behave in the same way,
unrestrained and insanely!? Yes. But within every other nation it was perceived
socially, like an eternal strain between rich and poor, lord and servant.
However, when an alien emerges as a “master over life and death” it further adds
to the heavy resentment. It might appear strange – isn’t it all the same for a
worthless negligible, crushed, and doomed camp dweller surviving at one of his
dying stages? isn’t it all the same who exactly seizes the power inside the camp
and celebrates crow’s picnics over his trench-grave? As it turns out, it is not.
These things have been etched into my memory inerasably.
In my play Republic of Labor, I presented some of the
events that happened in that camp on Bolshaya Kaluzhskaya 30. Understanding the
impossibility of depicting everything like it was in reality, because it would
be inevitably considered as incitement of anti-Jewish sentiment (as if that trio
of Jews was not inflaming it in real life, caring little about consequences) I
withheld the abominably greedy Bershader. I concealed Burstein. I recomposed the
profiteer Rosa Kalikman into an amorphous Bella of eastern origin, and retained
the only Jew, accountant Solomonov, exactly like he was in life.
So, what about my loyal Jewish friends after they perused the
play? The play aroused extraordinarily passionate protests from V. L. Teush. He
read it not immediately but when Sovremennik had already decided to stage it in
1962, so the question was far from scholarly. The Teushes were deeply injured by
the figure of Solomonov. They thought it was dishonest and unjust to show such a
Jew (despite that in the real life, in the camp, he was exactly as I showed him)
in the age of oppression of Jews. (But then, it appears to me that such age is
everlasting? When have our Jews not been oppressed?) Teush was
alarmed and extremely agitated, and put forward an ultimatum that if I did not
remove or at least soften up the image of Solomonov, then all our friendship
will be ruined and he and his wife will no longer be able to keep my
manuscripts. Moreover, they prophesized that my very name will be irretrievably
lost and blemished if I leave Solomonov in the play. Why not to make him a
Russian? They were astonished. Is it so important that he be a Jew? (But if it
doesn’t matter, why did Solomonov select Jews to be Idiots?)
I took a chill pill: a sudden censorial ban, no less weighty
than the official Soviet prohibition, had emerged from an unanticipated
direction. However, the situation was soon resolved by the official prohibition
forbidding Sovremennik to stage the piece.
And there was another objection from Teush: "Your Solomonov
has anything but Jewish personality. A Jew always behaves discreetly,
cautiously, suppliantly, and even cunningly, but from where comes this pushy
impudence of jubilant force? This is not true, it cannot happen like this!"
However, I remember not this Solomonov alone, and it was
exactly like that! I saw many things in the 1920's and 1930's in Rostov-on-Don.
And Frenkel acted similarly, according to the recollections of surviving
engineers. Such a slip of a triumphant power into insolence and arrogance is the
most repelling thing for those around. Sure, it is usually behavior of the worst
and rudest – but this is what becomes imprinted in memory. (Likewise the Russian
image is soiled by the obscenities of our villains.)
All these blandishments and appeals to avoid writing about the
things like they were – are undistinguishable from what we heard from the
highest Soviet tribunes: about anti-defamation, about socialist realism – to
write like it should be, not like it was.
As if a creator is capable of forgetting or creating his past
anew! As if the full
truth can be written in parts, including only what is pleasing, secure and
And how meticulously all the Jewish characters in my books
were analyzed with every personal feature weighted on apothecary scales. But the
astonishing story of Grigory M., who did not deliver the order to retreat to a
dying regiment because he was frightened (Archipelago GULag, v. 6, Ch. 6)
– was not noticed. It was passed over without a single word! And Ivan
Denisovich added insult to injury: there were such sophisticated sufferers
but I put forward a boor!
For instance, during Gorbachev’s glasnost, emboldened
Asir Sandler published his camp memoirs. “After first perusal, I emphatically
rejected One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich… the main personage was
Ivan Denisovich, a man with minimal spiritual needs, focused only on his mundane
troubles” – and Solzhenitsyn turned him into the national image… (Exactly like
all well-meaning communists were grumbling at that time!) While “[Solzhenitsyn]
preferred not to notice the true intelligentsia, the determinant of domestic
culture and science”. Sandler was discussing this with Miron Markovich Etlis
(both used to be Idiots in medical unit). And Etlis added: “The story is
significantly distorted, placed upside down”. “Solzhenitsyn failed to emphasize
…the intelligent part of our contingent”... Self-centered reflections [of Ivan
Denisovich] about himself… that patience… that pseudo-Christian attitude toward
others”. And in 1964 Sandler was lucky to relieve his feelings in conversation
with Ehrenburg himself. And the latter affirmatively nodded when Sandler
mentioned his “extremely negative” feeling toward my novelette (12).
However, not a single Jew reproached me that Ivan Denisovich,
in essence, attends to Cesar Markovich as a servant, albeit with good feelings.