Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime by Richard Pipes
The Bolshevik Party was a unique institution. Organized as a conspiratorial group for the specific purpose of seizing power and making a revolution from above, first in Russia and then in the rest of the world, it was profoundly undemocratic in its philosophy and its methods of operation. The prototype for all subsequent totalitarian organizations, it resembled more a secret order than a party in the normally accepted sense. Its founder and undisputed leader, Vladimir Lenin, determined on the very day he learned of the outbreak of the February Revolution that the Bolsheviks would topple the Provisional Government by armed force. His strategy consisted of promising every disaffected group what it wanted: to the peasants, the land; to the soldiers, peace; to the workers, the factories; to the ethnic minorities, independence. None of these slogans were part of the Bolshevik program and all would be thrown overboard once the Bolsheviks were in power, but they served the purpose of alienating large groups of the population from the Government.
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The Bolsheviks took power for the express purpose of beginning widespread armed conflict, first in Russia and then in Europe and the rest of the world. Beyond the borders of what had been the Russian Empire, they failed. But inside them, they succeeded well enough. The Civil War, which tore Russia apart for nearly three years, was the most devastating event in that country's history since the Mongol invasions in the thirteenth century. Unspeakable atrocities were committed from resentment and fear: millions lost their lives in combat as well as from cold, hunger, and disease. As soon as the fighting stopped, Russia was struck by a famine such as no European people had ever experienced, a famine Asian in magnitude, in which millions more perished.
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The consequence was the eruption of a virulent anti-Semitism, first in Russia, then abroad. Just as socialism was the ideology of the intelligentsia, and nationalism that of the old civil and military Establishment, so Judeophobia became the ideology of the masses. At the conclusion of the Civil War, a Russian publicist observed that "Hatred of Jews is one of the most prominent features of contemporary Russian life; possibly even the most prominent. Jews are hated everywhere, in the north, in the south, in the east and in the west. They are detested by all social orders, by all political parties, by all nationalities and by persons of all ages." By late 1919, even the liberal Kadets were afflicted with the poison.
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In every respect except for the absence of a central organization to direct the slaughter, the pogroms of 1919 were a prelude to and rehearsal for the Holocaust. The spontaneous lootings and killings left a legacy that two decades later was to lead to the systematic mass murder of Jews at the hands of the Nazis: the deadly identification of Communism with Jewry.
In view of the role this accusation had in paving the way for the mass destruction of European Jewry, the question of Jewish involvement in Bolshevism is of more than academic interest. For it was the allegation that "international Jewry" invented Communism as an instrument to destroy Christian (or "Aryan") civilization that provided the ideological and psychological foundation of the Nazi "final solution." In the 1920s the notion came to be widely accepted in the West and the Protocols became an international best-seller. Fantastic disinformation spread by Russian extremists alleged that all the leaders of the Soviet state were Jews. Many foreigners involved in Russian affairs came to share this belief. Thus, Major General H. C. Holman, head of the British military mission to Denikin, told a Jewish delegation that of 36 Moscow "commissars" only Lenin was a Russian, the rest being Jews. An American general serving in Russia was convinced that the notorious Chekists M. I. Latsis and Ia. Kh. Peters, who happened to be Latvians, were Jewish as well.
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Indeed, these attempts at social revolution in Europe achieved the very opposite result of that intended: they discredited Communism and played into the hands of nationalist extremists who exploited the population's xenophobia by stressing the role of foreigners, especially Jews, in inciting civil unrest. In Hungary, the collapse of Bela Kun's regime led to bloody anti-Jewish pogroms, and in Germany the Communist revolts gave credibility to the anti-Semitic propaganda of the nascent National-Socialist movement. It is difficult to conceive how right-wing radicalism, so conspicuous in interwar Europe, could have flourished without the fear of Communism, first aroused by the putsches of 1918-19: "The main results of that mistaken policy were to terrify the Western ruling classes and many of the middle classes with the specter of revolution, and at the same time provide them with a convenient model, in Bolshevism, for a counterrevolutionary force, which was fascism."
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Material self-interest, and not only in the narrow commercial sense, was a powerful motive for turning into a Communist mouthpiece. The willingness faithfully to follow the Party line through all its zigzags ensured a writer or an artist of unstinting support by the Party's effective and well-financed propaganda machine: with its help many a mediocre writer became a celebrity and even a best-selling author. Examples include Romain Rolland, Lion Feuchtwanger, Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and Howard Fast, whose productions have in due course sunk into well-deserved oblivion. English fellow-traveling authors had access to Victor Gollancz's Left Book Club, which at the height of its popularity in mid-1939 distributed pro-Soviet nonfiction to fifty thousand subscribers. Books of a similar orientation under the Penguin imprint sold in the six figures. This happened at a time when Darkness at Noon, by the disenchanted Communist Arthur Koestler, a book that in time attained the status of a classic, had in England an initial printing of one thousand copies and total first-year sales of less than four thousand. George Orwell's Animal Farm was rejected by fourteen publishers on the grounds of being too anti-Soviet. Western journalists could make a name for themselves by being accredited to Moscow, and there enjoy a style of life quite beyond the reach of their colleagues at home, provided they wrote only what the Soviet authorities approved: the alternative was disaccreditation and expulsion. And, of course, for venturesome and politically sympathetic businessmen there was money to be made from concessions and trade. From Moscow's point of view, sympathizers inspired by venal motives were the most dependable of all, because, having no ideals to begin with, they were immune to disillusionment.
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Fellow-travelers were mesmerized by Stalin's tyranny: instead of seeing it as the crassest violation of Communist claims to democracy, they interpreted it as a guarantee of Communism's purity, since by eliminating politics and all the sordid infighting that went with it, it enabled the Communists to concentrate on what they assumed to be the movement's ultimate objective. Paradoxically, as soon as the Communist leaders themselves began to admit to failures and crimes, which happened after Stalin's death, fellow-travelers deserted them in droves. Soon the breed vanished. For the idealistic fellow-travelers, self-delusion was a necessity: they would ignore oppression and mass murder in the name of an ideal rather than subscribe to a more humane policy whose pragmatism robbed them of utopian dreams.
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Various explanations have been advanced for this about-face, which resulted in Mussolini's expulsion from the Socialist Party. The least charitable holds that he was bribed--that he came under strong pressure from French socialists, who provided him with money to publish his own newspaper, Ii Popolo d'Italia. The suggestion is that, in effect, Mussolini sold out. It is more likely, however, that his motives were political. After nearly all European socialist parties had violated their pacifist pledges and backed their governments' entry into the war, he seems to have concluded that nationalism was more potent fare than socialism. In December 1914, he wrote: "The nation has not disappeared. We used to believe that it was annihilated. Instead, we see it rise, living, palpitating before us! And understandably so. The new reality does not suppress the truth: class cannot destroy the nation. Class is a collectivity of interests, but the nation is a history of sentiments, traditions, language, culture, ancestry. You can insert the class into the nation, but they do not destroy each other."
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Seen in perspective, Lenin owes his historical prominence not to his statesmanship, which was of a very inferior order, but to his generalship. He was one of history's great conquerors: a distinction not vitiated by the fact that the country he conquered was his own. His innovation, the reason for his success, was militarizing politics. He was the first head of state to treat politics, domestic as well as foreign, as warfare in the literal sense of the word, the objective of which was not to compel the enemy to submit but to annihilate him. This innovation gave Lenin significant advantages over his opponents, for whom warfare was either the antithesis of politics or else politics pursued by other means. Militarizing politics and, as a corollary, politicizing warfare enabled him first to seize power and then to hold on to it. It did not help him build a viable social and political order. He grew so accustomed to storming on all "fronts" that even after asserting undisputed authority over Soviet Russia and her dependencies, he had to invent ever new enemies to fight and destroy: now the church, now the Socialists-Revolutionaries, now the intelligentsia. This belligerence became a fixed feature of the Communist regime, culminating in Stalin's notorious "theory" that the closer Communism approached final victory the more intense grew social conflicts-a notion that justified a bloodbath of unprecedented ferocity. It caused the Soviet Union in the sixty years that followed Lenin's death to exhaust itself in entirely unnecessary domestic and foreign conflicts that eviscerated her both physically and spiritually.
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The Communist experiment is often labeled "utopian." Thus a recent history of the Soviet Union, far from sympathetic, bears the title Utopia in Power. The term, however, is applicable only in that limited sense in which Engels used it to criticize socialists who did not accept his and Marx's "scientific" doctrines, by making in their visions no allowance for historic and social realities. Lenin himself was forced to admit toward the end of his life that the Bolsheviks, too, were guilty of ignoring the cultural realities of Russia and its unpreparedness for the economic and social order that they tried to impose on it. The Bolsheviks ceased to be utopians when, once it had become obvious the ideal was unattainable, they persisted in the attempt with resort to unrestrained violence. Utopian communities always postulated the concurrence of their members in the task of creating a "cooperative commonwealth." The Bolsheviks, by contrast, not only did not care to obtain such concurrence, but dismissed as "counterrevolutionary" every manifestation of individual or group initiative. They also displayed a constitutional inability to deal with opinions different from their own except by abuse and repression. For these reasons they should be regarded not as utopians but as fanatics: since they refused to admit defeat even after it stared them in the face, they satisfied Santayana's definition of fanaticism as redoubling one's efforts after forgetting one's aim.
Marxism and Bolshevism, its offspring, were products of an era in European intellectual life that was obsessed with violence. The Darwinian theory of natural selection was promptly translated into a social philosophy in which uncompromising conflict occupied a central place. "No one who has not waded through some sizeable part of the literature of the period 1870-1914 "writes Jacques Barzun, "has any conception of the extent to which it is one long call for blood, nor of the variety of parties, classes, nations, and races whose blood was separately and contradictorily clamored for by the enlightened citizens of the ancient civilization of Europe." No one embraced this philosophy more enthusiastically than the Bolsheviks: "merciless" violence, violence that strove for the destruction of every actual and potential opponent, was for Lenin not only the most effective, but the only way of dealing with problems.
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But even the one difference separating the two men--that Lenin did not kill fellow-Communists and Stalin did so on a massive scale--is not as significant as may appear at first sight. Toward outsiders, people not belonging to his order of the elect--and that included 99.7 percent of his compatriots--Lenin showed no human feelings whatever, sending them to their death by the tens of thousands, often to serve as an example to others. A high Cheka official, I. S. Unshlikht, in his tender recollections of Lenin written in 1934, stressed with unconcealed pride how Lenin "mercilessly made short shrift of philistine party members who complained of the mercilessness of the Cheka, how he laughed at and mocked the 'humanness' of the capitalist world." The difference between the two men lay in the conception of the "outsider." Lenin's insiders were to Stalin outsiders, people who owed loyalty not to him but to the Party's founder and who competed with him for power; and toward them, he showed the same inhuman cruelty that Lenin had employed against his enemies.
Beyond the strong personal links binding the two men, Stalin was a true Leninist in that he faithfully followed his patron's political philosophy and practices. Every ingredient of what has come to be known as Stalinism save one--murdering fellow Communists--he had learned from Lenin, and that includes the two actions for which he is most severely condemned: collectivization and mass terror. Stalin's megalomania, his vindictiveness, his morbid paranoia, and other odious personal qualities should not obscure the fact that his ideology and modus operandi were Lenin's. A man of meager education, he had no other source of ideas.
In theory, one can conceive a Trotsky, Bukharin, or Zinoviev grasping the torch from the dying Lenin and leading the Soviet Union in a different direction than Stalin. What one cannot conceive is how they could have been in a position to do so, given the realities of the power structure at the time of Lenin's illness. By throttling democratic impulses in the Party in order to protect his dictatorship, and by imposing on the Party a top-heavy command structure, Lenin ensured that the man who controlled the central party apparatus controlled the Party and through it, the state. And that man was Stalin. The revolution inflicted on Russia staggering human losses. The statistics are so shocking that they inevitably give rise to doubts. But unless someone can come up with alternate numbers, the historian is compelled to accept them, the more so that they are shared alike by Communist and non-Communist demographers.
The following table indicates the population of the Soviet Union within the borders of 1926 (in millions):
Early 1920: 140.6
Early 1921: 136.8
Early 1922: 134.9
The decrease--12.7 million--was due to deaths from combat and epidemics (approximately 2 million each); emigration (about 2 million); and famine (over 5 million).
But these figures tell only half the story, since obviously, under normal conditions, the population would not have remained stationary but grown. Projections by Russian statisticians indicate that in 1922 the population should have numbered more than 160 million rather than 135 million. If this figure is taken into account, and the number of émigrés is deducted, the human casualties of the Revolution in Russia--actual and due to the deficit in births--rise to over 23 million--two and a half times the fatalities suffered by all the belligerent countries in World War I combined, and a loss nearly equal to the combined populations at the time of the four Scandinavian countries plus Belgium and the Netherlands. The actual losses were heaviest in the age group 16-49, particularly in its male contingent, of which it had eradicated by August 1920--that is, before the famine had done its work--29 percent.
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Failure was inevitable and imbedded in the very premises of the Communist regime. Bolshevism was the most audacious attempt in history to subject the entire life of a country to a master plan, to rationalize everybody and everything. It sought to sweep aside as useless rubbish the wisdom that mankind had accumulated over millennia. In that sense, it was a unique effort to apply science to human affairs: and it was pursued with the zeal characteristic of that breed of intellectuals who regard resistance to their ideas as proof that they are sound. Communism failed because it proceeded from the erroneous doctrine of the Enlightenment, perhaps the most pernicious idea in the history of thought, that man is merely a material compound, devoid of either soul or innate ideas, and as such a passive product of an infinitely malleable social environment. This doctrine made it possible for people with personal frustrations to project them onto society and attempt to resolve them there rather than in themselves. As experience has confirmed time and again, man is not an inanimate object but a creature with his own aspirations and will--not a mechanical but a biological entity. Even if subjected to the fiercest dressage, he cannot pass on the lessons he has been forced to learn to his children, who come into this world ever fresh, asking questions that are supposed to have been settled once and for all. To demonstrate this commonsensical truth required tens of millions of dead, incalculable suffering for the survivors, and the ruin of a great nation.
The Great Terror by Robert Conquest
But it was not until 1988 that, on this as on other aspects of Stalinism, full accounting of the impact, the method, and the motives appeared in Soviet publications. The deaths in the terror-famine cannot have been lower than 6 to 7 million. The death toll among the peasantry over the whole period 1930 to 1933 is given in the recent Soviet literature as around 10 million--higher than the dead of all the belligerents put together in the First World War. That is, it was all on a scale as large as that of the subsequent "Great Terror." These events are not the subject of this book, except insofar as they are a part of the preparation for the full scale Stalinist regime. (The present writer has in fact dealt with the 1930-1933 terror in The Harvest of Sorrow; indeed, in a sense, the two books form a sequence on Stalinism in the 1930s.)
There seems little doubt that the main issue was simply crushing the peasantry, and the Ukrainians, at any cost. One high official told a Ukrainian who later defected that the 1933 harvest "was a test of our strength and their endurance. It took a famine to show them who is master here. It has cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay. We have won the war." In fact, we find that mass terror was now already in existence in the countryside, and thousands of police and Party officials had received the most ruthless operational experience.
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But he was even more concerned with the effect on the Party. Many Communists had been severely shaken. Some had committed suicide; others had gone mad. In his view, the worst result of the terror and famine in the country was not so much the sufferings of the peasantry, horrible though these were. It was the "deep changes in the psychological outlook of those Communists who participated in this campaign, and instead of going mad, became professional bureaucrats for whom terror was henceforth a normal method of administration, and obedience to any order from above a high virtue." He spoke of a "real dehumanization of the people working in the Soviet apparatus."
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For the moment, however, the new "unity" of the Party was celebrated. In January 1934 its XVIIth Congress, the "Congress of Victors," assembled. The 1,966 delegates (of whom 1,108 were to be shot over the next few years) listened to the unanimously enthusiastic speakers. Stalin himself set the theme: "Whereas at the XVth Congress it was still necessary to prove the correctness of the Party line and to fight certain anti-Leninist groupings, and at the XVIth Congress, to finish off the last supporters of these groupings, at the present Congress there is nothing to prove and, it seems, nobody to beat."
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When it became apparent that Hitlerism was not going to collapse--a conclusion Stalin seems to have reached at the time of the Nazi Roehm Purge in June 1934--Stalin was not to be inhibited by doctrinal reasons from coming to an arrangement with the new dictator. The difficulty was rather that Hitler appeared to be quite intransigently anti-Communist. As Hitler built up Germany's military and economic power, Stalin began a complex approach. Hitler's evident military threat could be blocked in two ways: by force or by agreement. If force was to be necessary, then a powerful antifascist alliance needed to be built. If agreement were possible, it could best be achieved from strength. So from the mid-1930s, Soviet foreign policy, and Comintern tactics, were directed to creating a system of Party and State alliances against German power.
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In 1937 and 1938, Yezhov sent in to Stalin 383 lists, containing thousands of names of figures important enough to require his personal approval for their execution. As Yezhov was only in power for just over two years--and, in fact, his effective working period was rather less-this means that Stalin got such a list rather more often than every other day of "persons whose cases were under the jurisdiction of the Military Collegium." A samizdat historian of the 1 970s indicated that the lists included 40,000 names. However, a Soviet periodical now tells us that at a recent plenum of the Central Committee, the total number shot, whose names appeared on lists signed by "Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich, and Malenkov," though perhaps over a longer period, was given as 230,000. At any rate, we can envisage Stalin, on arrival at his office, as often as not finding in his in-tray a list of a few hundred names for death, looking through, and approving them, as part of the ordinary routine of a Kremlin day. We are told in recent Soviet articles that on 12 December 1937 alone, Stalin and Molotov sanctioned 3,167 death sentences, and then went to the cinema.
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Such things are worth recording. But at the best of times, they were most exceptional. The norm was callous brutality, or at best cloddish indifference to death and suffering. A Soviet writer remarks of the interrogators, "They were all sadists of course. And only a handful found the courage to commit suicide. Pace by pace, as they followed one routine directive after another, they climbed down the steps from the human condition to that of beasts. . . . But this happened only gradually." The few humane officers and guards did not anyhow survive Yezhov's purge of the NKVD. His new intake of NKVD troopers were well-trained, well-fed, heartless young thugs. Any display of human sympathy, they had firmly implanted in them, was a concession to bourgeois feeling and a form of treachery in the class struggle. As the Purge broadened, it also got worse.
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The cellars of the Lubyanka were really a sort of basement divided into a number of rooms off corridors. Later on, in ordinary routine, the condemned handed in their clothes in one of these rooms and changed into white underclothes only. They were then taken to the death cell and shot in the back of the neck with an eight-shot automatic. A doctor then signed the death certificate, the last document to be put in their files, and the tarpaulin on the floor was taken away to be cleaned by a woman specially employed for that purpose. (Execution with a small-bore pistol is not, as might seem, very humane. Of the 9,432 corpses exhumed at Vinnitsa, 6,360 had needed a second shot; 78, a third shot; and 2, a fourth shot, while many others had been struck over the head with some blunt object to finish them off. Again, we are told in a recent Soviet article that in the mass graves at Kuropaty the sand thrown above a new batch of those executed could still be seen moving some time later.)
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In 1938, even from Stalin's point of view, the whole thing had become impossible. The first substantial question an interrogator asked was, "Who are your accomplices?" So from each arrest, several other arrests more or less automatically followed. But if this had gone on for a few more months, and each new victim named only two or three accomplices, the next wave would have struck at 10 to 15 percent of the population, and soon after that at 30 to 45 percent. There are many theories of Stalin's motives throughout the whole horrible business, and the question of why he stopped the mass Terror at this stage has puzzled many commentators. But we can see that the extreme limits had been reached. To have gone on would have been impossible economically, politically, and even physically, in that interrogators, prisons, and camps, already grotesquely overloaded, could not have managed it. And meanwhile, the work of the mass Purge had. been done. The country was crushed.
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The fate of the prisoner who had the good fortune to escape being taken to the execution cellars was to be dispatched to a Corrective Labor Camp. The Corrective Labor Codex defines three types of camp: 1. Factory and agricultural colonies where "people deprived of freedom" are "trained and disciplined." (Article 33); 2. Camps for mass work which includes those in "distant regions" for "class-dangerous elements" requiring "a more severe regime." (Article 34); 3. Punitive camps for the "strict isolation" of those "previously detained in other colonies and showing persistent insubordination." (Article 35).
The first category was mainly for very minor offenses against factory discipline, and for petty thieves. All sentenced under Article 58 or by the Special Board went initially to category two.
The labor camp was one of the pillars of Stalin's whole system. Concealment of its nature from the West was one of his most extraordinary triumphs. For the evidence on the camps was, by the late l940s, overwhelming and detailed. Thousands of former inmates had reached the West, and their wholly consistent stories were supported by a good deal of documentation, such as the many labor-camp forms and letters reproduced in David J. Dallin and Boris I. Nicolaevsky's Forced Labour in Soviet Russia and, indeed, by the Corrective Labor Codex of the RSFSR, produced with much effect by the British delegation to the United Nations in 1949. Yet it was possible for Western intellectuals to disbelieve this material, and to join in Soviet-sponsored campaigns condemning all who revealed it as slanderers.
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A detailed list of camp groups covering 35 clusters was given as early as 1937 (a cluster usually included about 200 camps of around 1,200 inmates each). In 1945, on the basis of reports from Poles allowed to leave under the Soviet--Polish treaty, a far more comprehensive account was given, together with a map, showing 38 administration clusters and groups (including 8 under Dalstroy--the "Far Eastern Construction Trust"). In 1948, Dallin and Nicolaevsky, on the basis of careful research, were able to list and describe the operations of 125 camps or camp clusters, mentioning that a number of others had been reported but not wholly confirmed.
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The first great camps were in the Solovetsky Monasteries in the far north. Here, in Tsarist times, the monks of the oldest tradition of isolation from the world had withstood a siege from 1668 to 1676, defending their faith in the Old Belief against the reformism of the time. When the camps were set up, some of the old monks were retained for a time to teach the convicts how to operate the fisheries. They were later liquidated for sabotage. At the Solovetsky camps, health conditions were very bad. Epidemics reduced the population from 14,000 to 8,000 in 1929 and 1930. In general, these were bad times in all the camps springing up around the White Sea. The average life span in them between 1929 and 1934 "did not exceed one or two years." This was almost always due to corruption and inefficiency among the jailers. The remedy was a conventional one. "The G.P.U. commission would come down from Moscow and shoot half the administration, after which convict life returned to its normal horror." The original Solovetsky "Camp of Special Designation" was changed in 1936 into a "Prison of Special Designation," and in 1939 the surviving prisoners were transferred by sea to Norilsk and Dudinin.
The statute on Corrective Labor Camps which governed the later period was adopted on 7 April 1930. The camps took their modern form at a time of vast expansion of the network.
The most careful estimates of the camp population over the pre-Yezhov period run as follows: In 1928, 30,000; In 1930, over 600,000; In 1931 and 1932, a total of nearly 2 million in "places of detention" can be estimated from figures given for the allotment per prisoner of newspapers, and a Moscow scholar recently estimates that of "over" 15 million dekulakized in the collectivization of 1930 to 1932, 1 million of the males of working age were sent directly to labor camps.
In 1933 to 1935, Western estimates run mainly at the 5 million level (70 percent of them peasants), and in 1935 to 1937, a little higher. But recent Soviet analysis suggests that (omitting deportees held in NKVD "Special Settlements") the true figure may be lower, in the 2 to 4 million range. A Soviet textbook of the 1930s gives the maximum numbers at forced labor (katorga) in Tsarist times as 32,000, in 1912, and the maximum total of all prisoners as 183,949.
TO THE CAMPS
This established system awaited the new intake. After sentence, the prisoners were crammed into Black Marias, of a type originally produced before the Revolution; they had then been designed for seven persons, but by narrowing the cellular partitions to a minimum, now took twenty-eight.' Then, usually at night, they were loaded into the railway wagons taking them to their destination, either cattle wagons which had carried twelve horses or forty-eight men in the Tsarist wars and now held up to a hundred prisoners, or the specially made "Stolypin trucks," named after the Tsarist Minister--though, as a Soviet writer says, "Why were these appalling narrow penal wagons called Stolypin trucks? They were of quite recent origin"--which often held twenty to thirty people in six-man compartments. These journeys to the camps might last months. For example, one prisoner describes a forty-seven-day railway journey from Leningrad to Vladivostok. Such trips are sometimes described as worse than the camps themselves. The crowded goods wagons were practically unheated in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer. Inadequate food and drinking water and sanitary arrangements caused great suffering and a high death rate. A foreign Communist complains of spending six weeks in a ship's hold, on "one of the widest rivers in the world," with only seven fluid ounces of drinking water a day.
The train guards, from the so-called convoy troops of the NKVD, were particularly brutal and negligent. During transport to the camps, the NKVD's regulation mania was not even formally observed when it came, for example, to rations. Sometimes there was nothing to drink the "tea" ration from. Often rations gradually got smaller and smaller, and the guards started failing to distribute them at all. Even the water to be provided was often forgotten for a day or two. A Soviet woman writer complains of the suffering caused by the provision of only one mug of water a day for all purposes on the long run from Moscow to Vladivostok.
A Pole who collated the accounts of his countrymen deported in 1939 and 1940 remarks: "It seems almost impossible for any human being, when not experiencing any particular sensations of anger or vindictiveness and when not in danger of thereby being deprived of it himself, persistently to refuse to hand in a bucket of water to fifty or sixty human beings shut in under such conditions. It is a fact that these men did refuse to do so, and could keep up this attitude throughout journeys lasting four, five and six weeks. There were whole days of twenty-four hours when not a drop of anything to drink passed into the cars. There were periods even of thirty-six hours."
The writer adds that in examining "many hundreds" of accounts, he has noted one case of a guard passing in an extra bucket, and five others of the doors being opened for ten minutes or so to relieve the fetor of the cars. Of the doctors or medical orderlies attached to each train, he found a few cases of "a little more than blank indifference" to particular children, and two records of decided kindness. The brutalization Bukharin had noted in the Party had reached down and everywhere reinforced a more archiac brutality. These train journeys were highly debilitating. A Soviet writer, later rehabilitated, describes a party of men being marched from Vladivostok Transit Camp to the embarkation point for Magadan immediately after coming off the train, without food. After several had collapsed and died, the remainder refused to go on, whereupon the guards panicked, started kicking the corpses, and shot a number of others.
There is an interesting postwar account in the British Medical Journal of a medical examination of twenty-four women, former inhabitants of East Prussia, who had just escaped to western Germany after returning to the Eastern Zone from Soviet labor camps. On their way to the latter, they had been packed about eighty to a truck, and they lived on bread and a spoonful of sugar a day. But the worst deprivation was the lack of water. It was estimated that about 40 to 50 in one transport of 2,000 women died en route. In one of the camps described, it was estimated that about half the women died in the first eight or nine months, mostly from intestinal diseases.
It was usual for political prisoners to be robbed almost at once of their most valued possessions, such as warm clothing and good footwear, either on the journey or immediately on arrival at camp. This was done quite openly under the eyes of the guards. The old criminal underworld of Tsarist Russia, which since the Time of Troubles had developed as an extraordinary milieu with its own dialect and its own law, had been greatly reinforced, and its character much modified, by the tumults of the Civil War and the famine of the early l920s. Already then, the bezprizorniye, the homeless orphan children assembling in gangs and living by their wits, had become a problem. Collectivization and other social experiments disrupted millions more families and provided large reinforcements to these now maturing criminals.
The percentage of "criminals" was around 10 to 15 percent, but the majority of these were of the petty embezzler type, rather than urkas proper, who were seldom more than around 5 percent of a camp total. In some camps, indeed, there were none or almost none--particularly the more severe camps like the one described in Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, where almost all prisoners were in under Article 58, as interpreted by the Special Board. In other camps, their rule, which led to the slow murder of many politicals at night in the barracks when guards did not dare to interfere, was the norm. By 1940, the NKVD was often more fully in control, permitting only, in mixed camps such as Kargopol, regular rape hunts. Even these were largely suppressed in 1941. But later, a considerable relapse seems to have taken place. And in no case was there any serious interference with ordinary robbery and beating up.
Soviet sources as long ago as the l960s confirmed all this. General Gorbatov relates: "While we were in the Sea of Okhotsk misfortune befell me. Early in the morning, when I was lying half-awake as many of us did, two "trusties" came up to me and dragged away my boots which I was using as a pillow. One of them hit me hard on the chest and then on the head and said with a leer: "Look at him--sells me his boots days ago, pockets the cash, and then refuses to hand them over!" Off they went with their loot, laughing for all they were worth and only stopping to beat me up again when, out of sheer despair, I followed them and asked for the boots back. The other "trusties" watched, roaring with laughter. "Let him have it!" "Quit yelling--they're not your boots now." Only one of the political prisoners spoke up: "Look, what are you up to? How can he manage in bare feet?" One of the thieves took off his pumps and threw them at me."
Similar things happened to Gorbatov on several other occasions. Once, buying a tin of fish from a "trusty," he had his money stolen, together with letters and photographs of his wife, by criminals who refused to return even the latter. (When he opened the tin, it was full of sand.) He was surprised to see that the guards did nothing to discourage this sort of thing. At the Maldyak gold-field camp in the Magadan area, where he served his sentence, there were 400 politicals and 50 common criminals. The latter had all the privileges and in one way or another did the politicals out of much of their meager food ration: "Work at the goldfield was pretty killing, particularly so considering the bad food we were given. The "enemies of the people," as a rule, were detailed for the heaviest jobs, the lighter work being given to the "trusties" or common criminals [I]t was they who were appointed foremen, cooks, orderlies, and tent seniors. Naturally enough the small amounts of fat released for the pot chiefly found their way into the bellies of the "trusties." There were three types of rations: one for those who had not fulfilled their quota, another for those who had, and a third for those who had exceeded their quota. The latter automatically included the "trusties." They did little enough work, but the tally clerks were of their persuasion and so they swindled, putting to their own and their mates' credit the work that we had done. As a result the criminals fed well and the politicals went hungry."
Outside the camps proper--that is, in the transit camps and stations--the criminals continued to be almost completely out of control. One of their customs was to gamble with one another for the clothes of some strange political; the loser then had to pull them off the victim and hand them over to the winner. This game was also played for prisoners' lives. A Hungarian who was in Vorkuta in 1950 to 1951 reports it played by fifteen-year-old juvenile criminals, the loser then knifing the chosen victim. These young delinquents, usually aged from fourteen to sixteen, were seldom seen in the usual camps, being held in special centers. They were far more terrifying than any other element in Soviet society: their egos were completely unsocialized. Killing meant nothing at all to them. They formed the hard core of the "hooligan" youth element which still persists in the Soviet Union and, politically speaking, may be thought to form the potential storm troops, on one side or another, in any future upsets in the country.
Gorbatov mentions a criminal with fingers missing who explained to him that he had "lost" a political's clothes to another criminal, and before he could steal them to hand them over, the political had been transferred. So he was at once tried for negligence by his mates and sentenced to the loss of his fingers. The criminal "prosecutor" demanded all five, but the "court" settled for three. "We also have our laws," the victim commented. In another case, one who, in a mass rape aboard the convict ship Magadan, had taken a woman the leader of his band had marked down, had his eyes put out with a needle. Another leader, also on a convict ship, had gambled his brigade's bread ration away at cards. He was tried and cut to pieces.
In fact, the criminals (who had such names as "The Louse," "Hitler," and "The Knout"), known at the time of the Purges as urkas and later as blatniye, in the l950s had come to call themselves "Those with the Law"--that is, their own code.
One of its provisions (though the urkas later split into two factions on the issue) was refusal to work. Since the urka groups had sanctions just as effective as any disposed of by the camp administration, nothing could usually be done about this. One commandant is reported given the urkas jobs in the camp which existed only on paper. As Gorbatov describes above, the criminals in effect had arrangements with the authorities to ensure that the politicals worked on their behalf as well as on their own.
[. . . . . ]
SETTING UP CAMP
In general, the great expansion of the Yezhov period was marked by the setting up of new camps. For example, in the Archangel area, the Kargopol "camp," consisting of a number of smaller camps in a radius of about thirty-five miles, containing in 1940 about 30,000 prisoners, was founded in 1936 by 600 prisoners who were simply put out of the train in the middle of the forest and who built their own barracks and fences. The death rate had been very heavy. The Polish and German Communist prisoners had died first, followed by the national minorities from Asia.
Pasternak, certainly drawing on the experiences of friends who had suffered, described in Doctor Zhivago the setting up of a new camp: "We got off the train.--A snow desert. Forest in the distance. Guards with rifle muzzles pointing at us, wolf-dogs. At about the same time other groups were brought up. We were spread out and formed into a big polygon all over the field, facing outward so that we shouldn't see each other. Then we were ordered down on our knees, and told to keep looking straight ahead in front on pain of death. Then the roll-call, an endless, humiliating business going on for hours and hours, and all the time we were on our knees. Then we got up and the other groups were marched off in different directions, all except ours. We were told: "Here you are. This is your camp."--An empty snow-field with a post in the middle and a notice on it saying: "Gulag 92 Y.N.90"--that's all there was. First we broke saplings with our bare hands in the frost to get wood to build our huts with. And in the end, believe it or not, we built our own camp. We put up our prison and our stockade and our punishment cells and our watch towers, all with our own hands. And then we began our jobs as lumberjacks."
In exactly the same way, a Pole describes being marched, in rags, to a spot on the frozen tundra where there was no more than a sign: "Camp Point No. 228." The prisoners dug pits to live in and covered them with branches and earth. The food was simply raw rye flour, kneaded with water.
Another prisoner describes being marched to a temporary camp which would not hold, however squeezed, more than one-fifth of the prisoners. The others were left out in the mud for several days. They began to light fires made of bits of parts of the barracks, and were charged and beaten up by the guards. Twice a day, they had one-third of a liter of soup, and once a day about half a kilo of bread.
On entry into an established camp, prisoners were allotted their categories for work. This might be done by a quick examination of the prisoners' legs. A certificate of "first-class" health was required for the heaviest tasks. (A Soviet writer describes one being issued to a political four hours before her death from scurvy.) Then they were marched to the barracks, where, typically, "two hundred men slept in fifty bug-ridden bunks," on boards or mattresses "full of heavy and hard-packed sawdust."
Crowding was intense. The former director of a Kemerovo works describes negotiating with the NKVD for 2,000 slave laborers. The trouble was not the number, but how to accommodate them in the existing camps in the area. The officials concerned were shown around a camp which appeared to be packed solid, but the commandant agreed with his superior that yet another layer of bunks could be put in.
There would be a stove, though not adequate to warm one of the Arctic huts "because the orderlies only brought in ten pounds of coal dust for each stove, and you didn't get much warmth from that." In a corner would be the twenty-gallon latrine tank which prisoner orderlies carried off to empty daily--' 'light work for people on the sick list!"
The company, apart from the complement of urkas who in a nonpenal camp would be lording it in the corridors, were of a varied lot of "politicals." There would be saboteurs--specialists and engineers. At first they mostly had technical jobs, but, as the mass purges grew in scope, so many engineers and specialists flooded the camps that the chance of appointment to a technical position which had previously saved so many of them became proportionately rare.
There were certain special categories. In Kotlas, there was a whole group of men of eighty years and older who had been sentenced in Daghestan as part of the "liquidation of feudal remnants." And about 3,000 Moscow homosexuals were in camp at the "Third Watershed," on the Baltic--White Sea Canal. But usually the intake was mixed.
An account of the Dzhezkazgan camp in a Moscow article of the Khrushchev period mentions a former Ambassador to China, a soloist from the Bolshoi Opera, an illiterate peasant, an Air Force general. Common were soldiers, intellectuals, and especially Ukrainian and other nationalists, on the one hand, and members of religious sects, on the other. Solzhenitsyn points out that the Baptists were in the camps simply for praying. For this (at the time he writes of), "they all got twentyfive years, because that was how it was now--twenty-five years for everybody." There are many reports of sectarians being beaten or sent to the isolator cells for refusal to work on Sundays. A priest, beaten blind, was noted in 1937.
As in all times of trouble and oppression, the millenarian sects flourished. In the great slave empires of the past, similar voices had always spoken for the oppressed and hopeless. Now they sometimes preached that the horrors of the present were a special trial, and that from the Russian people, degraded and demoralized, a "race of saints" would arise. Even twenty years later, in Vorkuta, we are told that there was more religious organization (and sharper national feeling) among the minority groups still settled there after their camp experiences than in other districts.
Prisoners' rights were virtually limited to making written protests and complaints. The result: "Either there was nothing or it was rejected." Such applicants made a prisoner unpopular with the authorities.
In the penal camps proper, however, there was considerable freedom of speech: "Somebody in the room was yelling: "You think that old bastard in Moscow with the moustache is going to have mercy on you? He wouldn't give a damn about his own brother, never mind slobs like you!" The great thing about a penal camp was you had a hell of a lot of freedom. Back in Ust-Izhma if you said they couldn't get matches "outside" they put you in the can and slapped on another ten years. But here you could yell your head off about anything you liked and the squealers didn't even bother to tell on you. The security fellows couldn't care less." The only trouble was you didn't have much time to talk about anything."
Almost every account quotes cases of people who remained devoted to "the Party and the Government" and attributed their arrest to error. These bored and annoyed the other prisoners considerably. In some cases, though not in all, they turned informer. There were, in any case, a number of these by common NKVD practice. Informers who were recognized as such were always killed sooner or later. If the NKVD had been unable to extricate them in time, it made no complaint about their deaths. Herling gives an account of a revenge taken on a notorious former NKVD interrogator who was recognized in the camp, and when badly beaten up, but not killed, complained to the guards, who did nothing to save him so that he was finally killed a month later after endless persecution and attempts to appeal.
[. . . . . ]
A genuine caste feeling seems to have been arising, with the prisoner beginning to be regarded as actually an inferior being, just as in ancient times. The sentiment gradually spread that "mere contact" with the prisoners was "an insult to a free man." "It is considered inadmissible for a non-prisoner to eat the same food as a prisoner, to sleep under the same roof, or have any friendly relations with him." Things reached the stage where the head of a camp admonished the man in charge of the disinfestation chamber for allowing a shirt belonging to a free mechanic employed in the power plant to be put in with the prisoners' clothes for delousing. As a recent Soviet article puts it, a camp commandant did not regard the prisoners as human.
Free citizens in Kolyma sometimes tried to help prisoners they came in contact with. In particular, we are told, "doctors, engineers, geologists" would try to get their professional colleagues employed according to their capacities. A geologist now described as "a hero of the north" lost his own life owing to an attempt to defend some of the Kolyma inmates. One of his interventions is described: "These people might die!" "What people?" the representative of the camp administration smiled, "These are enemies of the people."
[. . . . . ]
There are many accounts of camp officials, and even doctors, who came to regard the prisoners as their personal serfs. This selection of slaves was sometimes similar even in detail to the illustrations of books about Negro slavery, as when the chief of a Yertsevo camp section, Samsonov, honored the medical examination with his presence, and with a smile of satisfaction felt the biceps, shoulders, and hacks of the new arrjva1s. It has been maintained that the Soviet forced labor system might be considered as "a stage on the way to a new social stratification which might have involved slavery"--that is, in the old-fashioned overt sense--though the trend was changed by later events.
A Soviet critic has remarked that: "the whole system in the camps Ivan Denisovich passed through was calculated to choke and kill without mercy every feeling for justice and legality in man, demonstrating in general and in detail such impunity of despotism that any sort of noble or rebellious impulse was powerless before it. The camp administration did not allow the prisoners to forget for a single moment that they had no rights at all. . . ."
In the 1940s, "a prisoner had to take his cap off at a distance of five paces when he saw a warder, and keep it off till he was two paces past him." Solzhenitsyn tells of a muddled count, leading to recount after recount, and another time an extra count when a missing prisoner has been found: ""What's all this about?" the chief escort screamed. "D'you want to sit on your asses in the snow? That's where I'll put you if you like and that's where I'll keep you till morning!" And he sure would. He wouldn't think twice about it if he wanted. It'd happened plenty of times before and sometimes they had to go down on their knees with the guards pointing their guns at the ready."
[. . . . . ]
In most of the main camp areas, there seem also to have been established special and highly secret "Central Isolation Prisons" covering a given group of camps. To one such, in Bamlag, we are told that some 50,000 prisoners were "transferred" for execution in the two years 1937 and 1938. The victims were tied up with wire like logs, stacked in trucks, driven out to a selected area, and shot.
The Hungarian Communist writer Lengyel, himself a camp veteran, describes one of these special extermination camps in the Norilsk area, as what is evidently intended as authentic background, in his story "The Yellow Poppies": the camp is wound up first by the execution of the remaining prisoners, and then by special NKVD squads who move in and execute all the staff and guards. Owing to the permafrost, it is impossible to bury the bodies, and they are piled into veritable hills and covered with truckloads of earth, the whole matter remaining unknown even in neighboring camps, and even when the camp site itself is later reoccupied as a prison hospital.
[. . . . . ]
THE PENAL EMPIRE
In the vast empty spaces in the north and the Far East, areas as big as fair-sized countries came under complete NKVD control. There were many camps scattered through the Urals, in the Archangel area, and more especially in and around Karaganda and on the new railway being built from Turkestan to Siberia. But in these, the NKVD administered only comparatively small enclaves. Even in the huge Karlag complex around Karaganda, where there were about 100,000 prisoners, they were in camps scattered over an area the size of France among other settlements, mostly of deported "free" labor. (These so-called free exiles were men and women whose innocence was absolutely clear even to the examining judges. In some areas, they were often little more than vagabonds, sleeping under bridges, begging their bread, and seeking work or even arrest to save themselves from starvation.)
[. . . . . ]
In a camp there described in the Khrushchev-period press, inmates did a twelve-hour day. The food ration for 100 percent norm was 800 grams of bread per day. Nonfulfillment of norms, through whatever cause, automatically entailed a reduction of the bread ration to 500 grams. This was just above starvation level; any further reduction to 300 grams (as a punitive measure) meant certain death. Work at the surface gold sites was performed in accordance with a strict division of labor. Two men had to start a bonfire, and this had to be done without matches, by the ancient method of striking sparks with flints. Another man had to fetch water from the frozen river and melt it. Next, the deeply frozen ground had to be softened, then excavated, and the sand passed through sieves in search of gold.
[. . . . . ]
The millions of slave laborers at the disposal of Gulag played an important economic role, and indeed became accepted as a normal component of the Soviet economy.
An ad hoc Committee of the United Nations appointed under resolutions by UNESCO and the ILO, and consisting of a prominent Indian lawyer, a former President of the Norwegian Supreme Court, and a former Peruvian Minister of Foreign Affairs, reported in 1953 in a sober document leaving no doubt of the "considerable significance" of forced labor in the Soviet Union.
State-owned slaves were common in the ancient world. For example, the Launion silver mines were operated by Athens on that basis. The Romans, too, had their servi publici. The Head of the Department of War Engineering Armaments, RSFSR, wanting some hundreds of prisoners for urgent work during the war, was told by the NKVD official responsible that there was a shortage. "Malenkov and Voznesensky need workers, Voroshilov is calling for road builders. What are we to do? The fact is we haven't yet fulfilled our plans for imprisonment. Demand is greater than supply."
We think of the lumber camps as typical. But the best estimate seems to be that (of the comparatively low camp population of early 1941) only about 400,000 were held at lumbering. The other main categories were:
Hired out to various State enterprises 1,000,000
Construction & maintenance of camps 600,000
General construction 3,500,000
[. . . . . ]
This was the last stage in the camps. When worn down, debilitated to the degree that no serious work could any longer be got out of them, prisoners were put on substarvation rations and allowed to hang around the camp doing odd jobs until they died. This category is recognized in Soviet as well as foreign books. Gorbatov, who describes the usual symptoms, confirms that to go sick was ordinarily fatal. For if you did, you had your ration cut and from that point there was no way out. This corps commander was at one time able to sweep the camp office floors, and there found an occasional crust to keep him going. He was himself saved from death by a friendly doctor who got him transferred to an easier post. In general, throughout the period, all our sources emphasize that survival for any length of time was rare in most camps except among those qualifying for "functions"--office jobs or other work enabling them to escape the main labor of the camp in question.
bad periods "the camps of the disabled and unfit . . . became the most
populous, and the largest labor brigades were those of the woodcutters and the
gravediggers." The dead were buried in pits, with small wooden tags
attached with string to their legs.
[. . . . . ]
A recent Soviet article puts it that "their death was caused by unbearable toil, by cold and starvation, by unheard-of degradation and humiliation, by a life which could not have been endured by any other mammal."
In another we read, "I often hear the word "lucky" from those I am recording. I was lucky--the firing squad was replaced by twenty-five years of hard labor; lucky--I waited for hours on the tundra to be shot but wasn't; lucky--I was transferred from general work to the meteorological station; lucky--I had enough time to take my daughter to my parents before the arrest; lucky. . . . One day we shall learn how many people died in the prisons and camps and how many returned.
[. . . . . ]
As we have said, by mid-1938 the NKVD itself, at the lower, operational level, had already wished to stop the progress of the Purge for obvious reasons. At the rate arrests were going, practically all the urban population would have been implicated within a few months. But it was caught in its own system. It was impossible for it not to arrest a man who had been denounced as an agent of Hitler. And an interrogator who did not demand the names of accomplices from each of his victims would soon himself come under denunciation for lack of vigilance or enthusiasm. By this time, the idea had grown among prisoners that the more denunciations they made the better; "Some even held the strange theory that the more people were jailed the sooner it would be realized that all this was nonsense and harmful to the Party. . . . My neighbor on the plank bed in the camp at Kolyma had once been head of the political department of a railway. He prided himself on having incriminated some 300 people. He said, as I had often heard in prison in Moscow, "The worse it is the better it is-- like that, it will all be cleared up more quickly"."
And, in fact, this was of some effect in the railway context (though no doubt elsewhere as well). The Byelorussian leaders complained that the NKVD had arrested every second railway official and that the system was near paralysis.
Weissberg recounts the arrest in the spring of 1938 of the secretary of the Kharkov medical council. A man with an excellent memory, he knew the names of all the doctors in the city and denounced them all, pointing out that he was in an especially good position to have recruited them and that they were in any case largely from hostile social classes. He refused to name any of them as the leader of the plot, claiming that post for himself. The doctor told his cell mates that he had been inspired to take this course by reading about the case of a witch burning in Germany at the time of the Inquisition when a young theologian charged with intelligence with the devil had at once pleaded guilty and named the members of the Inquisition as his accomplices. The interrogators were unable to torture him, as he had confessed, and the case went up to the archbishop, who put an end to the business.
[. . . . . ]
But on the whole, in the atmosphere of the late 1930s, fascism was the enemy, and a partial logic repressed or rejected any criticism of its supposed main enemy, the USSR. The Western capitals thronged with "the thousands of painters and writers and doctors and lawyers and debutantes chanting a diluted version of the Stalinist line."
Appeals in favor of the trials were made by various Western writers, Feuchtwanger, Barbusse--even the sensitive Gandhi fan, Romain Rolland. In the United States, a manifesto attacking the Dewey Commission was signed by a number of authors, poets, professors, and artists--Theodore Dreiser, Granville Hicks, Corliss Lamont, and others.
[. . . . . ]
One of the achievements of Stalinism was, in effect, that in spite of the fact that plenty of information was available contradicting the official picture, it was possible to impose the latter upon journalists, sociologists, and other visitors by methods which, on the face of it, seem crude and obvious, but which worked splendidly. Tourists visited Russia on a bigger scale in the Yezhov period than ever before. They saw nothing. The nighttime arrests, the torture chambers of the Lefortovo and the crowded cells of the Butyrka, the millions of prisoners cold and hungry in the great camps of the north were all hidden from them. The only dramatic scenes were the three great public trials. And these, too, were strictly controlled and did not depart much from a prepared script.
The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror Famine by Robert Conquest
The endless struggle against the kulak was much discussed in the Party and its organs in the earlier part of 1929, but no decision on how to deal with him was then reached. It was only in May 1929 that the Council of People's Commissars produced a formal definition of a kulak farm. It regularly hired labour; or had a mill or butter-making or similar establishment; or hired out agricultural machinery or premises; or had members engaged in commercial activities or usury or other income not from work -- specifically including the priesthood.
[. . . . . ]
And so we enter the epoch of dekulakization, of collectivization, and of the terror-famine; of war against the Soviet peasantry, and later against the Ukrainian nation. It may be seen as one of the most significant, as well as one of the most dreadful, periods of modem times.
[. . . . . ]
As was officially stated, by "kulak", we mean the carrier of certain political tendencies which are most frequently discernible in the subkulak, male and female'. By this means, any peasant whatever was liable to dekulakisation; and the 'subkulak' notion was widely employed, enlarging the category of victims greatly beyond the official estimate of kulaks proper even at its most strained. Moreover, contrary to the original instructions, dekulakization was in no way confined to the maximum collectivization regions.
[. . . . . ]
Thus, by a strange logic, a middle peasant could become a kulak by gaining property, but a kulak could not become a middle peasant by losing his. In fact the kulak had no escape. He was 'essentially' a class enemy, a sub-human. Yet the naming of the kulak enemy satisfied the Marxist preconceptions of the Party activist. It presented a flesh-and-blood foe accursed by history; and such a target made for a far more satisfactory campaign than mere abstract organizational change. And it provided a means of destroying the leadership of the villagers, which might have greatly strengthened the resistance, strong enough in all conscience, which they offered to collectivization.
[. . . . . ]
As to the division into categories, figures we have (from a district of the Western Province) show 3,551 households listed as kulak -- 447 in the first category, 1,307 in the second, and only 1,297 in the third. That is, 63% of the kulaks were to be shot, imprisoned or deported even at this stage. Moreover, the local instruction orders that those remaining, allotted marshland or eroded forest land and made to carry out forest or road labour, were to be prosecuted upon any failure to meet compulsory procurements, and so were also well on their way to deportation. (If these figures are to be taken as roughly applicable in general, then of the million odd 'kulak' families, 630,000 were in groups I and II, and 370,000 in group III. In any case the definition of categories was flexible, just as that of the kulak himself was, and soon these figures were to be greatly exceeded.)
[. . . . . ]
Among the activists, however, Stalin succeeded to a certain degree in his aim of inciting 'class struggle' in the villages, or at least struggle between friends of and victims of the regime. The necessary hatreds were inflamed; the activists who helped the GPU in the arrests and deportations "were all people who knew one another well, and knew their victims, but in carrying out this task they became dazed, stupefied. . . They would threaten people with guns, as if they were under a spell, calling small children 'kulak bastards', screaming 'bloodsuckers!' ... They had sold themselves on the idea that the so-called 'kulaks' were pariahs, untouchables, vermin. They would not sit down at a 'parasite's' table; the 'kulak' child was loathsome, the young 'kulak' girl was lower than a louse. They looked on the so-called 'kulaks' as cattle, swine, loathsome, repulsive: they had no souls; they stank; they all had venereal diseases; they were enemies of the people and exploited the labour of others... And there was no pity for them. They were not human beings; one had a hard time making out what they were -- vermin, evidently. This last paragraph is from Vasily Grossman. Himself Jewish, and the Soviet Union's leading writer on Hitler's holocaust, he draws the analogy with the Nazis and the Jews. A woman activist explains, 'What I said to myself at the time was "they are not human beings, they are kulaks" ... Who thought up this word "kulak" anyway? Was it really a term? What torture was meted out to them! In order to massacre them it was necessary to proclaim that kulaks are not human beings. Just as the Germans proclaimed that Jews are not human beings. Thus did Lenin and Stalin proclaim, kulaks are not human beings'.
[. . . . . ]
As these accounts indicate, the fate of the kulaks varied. The first category, designated as stubborn class enemies, were arrested in the winter of 1929-30. In Kiev jail they are reported at this time shooting 70-120 men a night. A prisoner, arrested because of his church activities, mentions that in the GPU prison in Dnipropetrovsk, a cell for 25 held 140 -- from which, however, one or two prisoners were taken each night to be shot.
One 'kulak' sent to Poltava prison in 1930 tells typically of 36 prisoners in a cell built for seven, then of one for 20 holding 83. In prison, rations ranged from 100 grammes to 150 grammes of'doughy black bread a day, with about 30 dying every day out of the prison total of some 2,000. The doctor would always certify 'paralysis of the heart'.
As to their families, a usual story is of the Ukrainian village of Velyki Solontsi where, after 52 men had been removed as kulaks, their women and children were taken, dumped on a sandy stretch along the Vorskla River and left there. A former Communist official tells of how in one village in the Poltava Province, with a population of 2,000, 64 families were dekulakized in December 1929, and 20 more driven out of their homes, to live as best they could nearby. In March an order was issued forbidding villagers to help them, and 300 of them, including 36 children and 20 old people, were marched to some caves three miles away, and forbidden to return. Some escaped. But in April the 200 remaining were shipped to the Far North.
The deportation of the kulaks was an event on so large a scale that it is often treated as a mass phenomenon merely, a move of millions. But each unit among these millions was a person, and suffered an individual fate.
Some destined for exile never reached it. One kulak, in Hrushka hamlet, Kiev Province, took a photo of his old home as he left it. He was arrested, and shot the same evening.
Generally speaking, the really old were simply left behind to whatever life they could find. In one village an activist told an American that though forty kulak families had been deported, 'we leave the very old, ninety years or over, here, because they are not a danger to the Soviet Power.
A Soviet writer describes a typical scene: "From our village . . .the 'kulaks' were driven out on foot. They took what they could carry on their backs: bedding, clothing. The mud was so deep it pulled the boots off their feet. It was terrible to watch them. They marched along in a column and looked back at their huts, and their bodies still held the warmth from their own stoves. What pain they must have suffered! After all, they had been born in those houses; they had given their daughters in marriage in those cabins. They had heated up their stoves, and the cabbage soup they had cooked was left there behind them. The milk had not been drunk, and smoke was still rising from their chimneys. The women were sobbing -- but were afraid to scream. The Party activists didn't give a damn about them. We drove them off like geese. And behind came the cart, and on it were Pelageya the blind, and old Dmitri Ivanovich, who had not left his hut for ten whole years, and Marusya the Idiot, a paralytic, a kulak's daughter who had been kicked by a horse in childhood and had never been normal since."
One 'kulak' describes a line of deportees in the Sumy Province stretching as far as the eye could see in both directions, with people from new villages continually joining, and later embarking on the train which, in eight days, took them to four 'special settlements' in the Urals.
On 26 May 1931, a train of sixty-one cars, holding some 3,500 members of kulak families, left Yantsenovo, a small station in the Zaporizhia Province, arriving at their Siberian destination on 3 June. Another train leaving Rostyh on 18 March 1931, consisted of forty-eight cars, carrying over 2,000 deportees. Generally speaking, in fact, the wagons carried some forty to sixty people. They were locked in, with little air or light. On the train, typically, a loaf of bread (giving 300 grammes each) and half a pail of tea or thin soup were provided for ten persons, though food did not arrive every day. In some cases tea or soup was replaced by water.
Up to 15 and even 20%, especially young children, are reported dying in transit, as was to be the case again in the 1940s, with the mass deportations of minority nationalities. Of course, the deportees were in every sort of physical condition, some of the women pregnant. A Cossack mother gave birth on a deportation train. The baby, as was usual, died. Two soldiers threw the body out while the train was on the move.
Sometimes the deportees were taken more or less directly to their final destination. Sometimes, they remained in local towns, treated as transit points, till their next transports came -- particularly in Vologda and Archangel in the North.
In Archangel all the churches were closed and used as transit prisons, in which many-tiered sleeping platforms were put up. The peasants could not wash, and were covered with sores. They roamed the town begging for help, but there were strict orders to locals not to help them. Even the dead could not be picked up. The residents, of course, dreaded arrest themselves. In Vologda city too, forty-seven churches were taken over and filled with deportees.
Elsewhere in the North, one of modern Russia's most distinguished writers describes how, In Vokhrovo, the district capital, in a little park by the station, dekulakized peasants from the Ukraine lay down and died. You got used to seeing corpses there in the morning; a wagon would pull up and the hospital stable-hand, Abram, would pile in the bodies. Not all died; many wandered through the dusty mean little streets, dragging bloodless blue legs, swollen from dropsy, feeling out each passer-by with doglike begging eyes.., they got nothing; the residents themselves, to get bread on their ration cards, queued up the night before the store opened.
Whether through such transit points or otherwise, the exiles finally reached their destinations in the taiga or the tundra.
Some of them -- those being taken to the extreme north of Siberia -- faced a further hazard, on the great rivers flowing down to the Arctic Ocean. A modern Soviet novelist describes kulaks being shipped down the Siberian river Ugryum on rafts, most of which are lost in the rapids.
On the Siberian taiga, if there was a village, they were crammed in somehow; if there was not, 'they were simply set right there in the snow. The weakest died'; those who could, cut timber and built shacks: 'they worked almost without sleeping so that their families would not freeze to death'.
[. . . . . ]
A recent work on the Siberian Military District's help in the collectivization gives an interesting picture of the soldiers getting true information from their families. In one battalion alone, in October 1931, 16% of the letters received were of 'anti-Soviet' character, in November 18.7%; in the first seventeen days of December 21.5%. Conversations between soldiers, as reported by informers, are full of such remarks as that the authorities 'rob everybody without distinction, and tell us they are liquidating the kulak'. Counter-revolutionary soldiers' groups were unmasked, for having tried to establish connections with the countryside through soldiers on leave, and in one case even issuing a leaflet.
In some regions of the Ukraine and the North Caucasus, an OGPU officer tells us, military aircraft were used. In the North Caucasus one squadron refused to strafe the Cossack villages. It was disbanded and half its personnel executed. Elsewhere in the area, an OGPU regiment was annihilated. The notorious Frinovski, then Commander of the OGPU Border troops, who commanded the repression, reported to the Politburo that the rivers had carried thousands of bodies downstream. After these revolts some tens of thousands of peasants are reported shot, hundreds of thousands sent to camps and exile.
[. . . . . ]
One of the rational arguments for collectivization was to assist industrialization, not merely in the Left's fashion of exploiting the peasantry to provide investment funds, but also to release the surplus population for factory work. But this was, of course, an argument not for the collectivization but for the modernization of agriculture, and the assumption that collectivization would in fact modernize, was, to say the least of it, premature.
Famine due to 'resettlement' of nomads also took a great toll in Kirgizia (where there were 82,000 nomad households out of 167,000: 44,000 households were settled, and 7,895 houses built for them with three baths); and among the Tatar and Bashkir minorities in Western Siberia. A leading Party official in Chelyabinsk told a foreign Communist that 'the famine has been of great benefit to us in the Urals, in Western Siberia and in the Trans-Volga. In these regions the losses from starvation have mostly affected the alien races. Their place is being taken by Russian refugees from the central provinces. We are, of course, not nationalists, but we cannot overlook this advantageous fact'. (That Stalin held the same view, not only in these areas but even more strongly vis-à-vis the Ukrainians, was to be demonstrated over the following year). The mortality of these Muslim and Asian peoples, such as the Bashkirs, the Chelyabinsk official attributed in large part to their failure to transfer from a nomad to a settled existence as the plan required.
[. . . . . ]
Whether they returned to their village, or had never left it, most of the victims met their deaths at home. Of a Ukrainian farm population of between twenty and twenty-five million, about five million died -- a quarter to a fifth.
[. . . . . ]
So the Ukraine now lay crushed: its Church destroyed, its intellectuals shot or dying in labour camp, its peasants -- the mass of the nation slaughtered or subdued. Even Trotsky was to remark that, 'nowhere do repression, purges, subjection and all types of bureaucratic hooliganism in general assume such deadly proportions as in the Ukraine in the struggle against powerful subterranean strivings among the Ukrainian masses towards greater freedom and independence'.
Stalin's measures must have seemed to him to be adequate to his purpose. If they were not, it was because he underestimated the power of national feeling to take these blows and, after all, survive.
[. . . . . ]
Nowadays the term 'genocide' is often used rhetorically. It may be worth recalling the text of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, adopted by the General Assembly on 9 December 1948, which came into effect in 1950 and was ratified by the USSR in 1954: ARTICLE I: The contracting parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and punish. ARTICLE II: In the present Convention genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: a) Killing members of the group; b) Causing grievous bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
It certainly appears that a charge of genocide lies against the Soviet Union for its actions in the Ukraine. Such, at least was the view of Professor Rafael Lemkin who drafted the Convention. But whether these events are to be formally defined as genocide is scarcely the point. It would hardly be denied that a crime has been committed against the Ukrainian nation; and, whether in the execution cellars, the forced labour camps, or the starving villages, crime after crime against the millions of individuals forming that nation. The Large Soviet Encyclopaedia has an article on 'Genocide', which it characterizes as an 'offshoot of decaying imperialism'.
[. . . . . ]
When a district committee secretary said that enough seed should be left to kulaks to sow and feed their children, he was attacked: 'don't think of the kulak's hungry children; in the class struggle philanthropy is evil'. Up in Archangel, in 1932-3, the destitute children of deported 'kulaks' were not given school lunches or clothing vouchers available to others.
There was logic in this attitude. An economic class, such as the 'kulaks', which the regime was concerned to crush, consists of children as well as adults. Moreover, Marx's idea that economics determines consciousness was applied in a very direct fashion -- for example, the surviving children of kulaks, even if separated from their families, carried their social stigma in their identity documents, and on that basis were denied education and jobs, and were always liable to arrest in periods of vigilance.
The involvement of children in their family's offences was traditional. From the shooting of the fourteen year old Tsarevich in 1918, to that of the fourteen year old son of the old Bolshevik Lakoba in 1937, is a logical step. In the 1930s children, like wives, were often sentenced under the rubric ChSIR -- Member of the Family of a Traitor to the Fatherland -- a charge impossible to disprove.
[. . . . . ]
There are many such descriptions of the physical condition of the children. Grossman gives one of the fullest descriptions of how they looked, and how it got worse as the famine closed in: 'And the peasant children! Have you ever seen the newspaper photographs of the children in the German camps? They were just like that: their heads like heavy balls on thin little necks, like storks, and one could see each bone of their arms and legs protruding from beneath the skin, how bones joined, and the entire skeleton was stretched over with skin that was like yellow gauze. And the children's faces were aged, tormented, just as if they were seventy years old. And by spring they no longer had faces at all. Instead, they had birdlike heads with beaks, or frog heads -- thin, wide lips -- and some of them resembled fish, mouths open. Not human faces'. He compares this directly with the Jewish children in the gas chambers and comments, 'these were Soviet children and those who were putting them to death were Soviet people'.
[. . . . . ]
Most, though, seem to have been little more than children's prisons. Even so, many children passed through the police-run homes and went on to respectable careers. Others were recruited to crime. And others, by a horrible irony, became suitable material for entry into the ranks of the NKVD itself. Even the comparatively humane Cheka children's homes of the 1920s had already been recruiting ground for the Secret Police. At the Belovechensk 'children's colony' near Maikop in the North Caucasus, we are told that 'half of the boys who were inmates in the school were sent, on reaching the age of sixteen, to special NKVD schools to be trained as future Chekists'. These were often from the more unsocialized criminal element. One, who had earlier escaped on two occasions with some friends, once murdering a peasant, once setting fire to a church, was some years later recognized by a local resident under arrest in Baku, as one of his Secret Police interrogators.
[. . . . . ]
Physical elimination, straightforward killing, was indeed also a possibility. 'When the problem became too peat for local officials bezpeizornie are reported shot in large numbers. The decree legalizing the execution of children of twelve or over was not indeed to come into force until 7 April 1935. But this extending of all penalties down to the age of twelve may also seem to have certain implications when it comes to the Party's interpretation of Marxism. If economics determines consciousness, by the age of twelve the full class consciousness may reasonably be supposed to be established beyond eradication. However, the record of starving infants in 1933, or deporting them in 1930, certainly shows that at times of heightened 'class' struggle those a good deal younger had to take their chance. The point being perhaps, rather, that twelve years old was the limit the Party felt was overtly defensible.
[. . . . . ]
To this figure of three million or more children dead in 1932-4, we must add the victims of dekulakization. If, as we have estimated, some three million dead are to be reckoned in this operation (not counting the adults dying later in labour camp), all accounts agree that the proportion of child deaths was very high, and all in all it can scarcely have been less than another million, again mostly the very young. To these four million odd victims of actual infanticide we should perhaps append the number of children's lives ruined or deeply scarred in the various ways we have noted: but this is beyond quantification.
[. . . . . ]
"The Death Toll"
There has been no official investigation of the rural terror of 1930-33; no statement on the loss of human life has ever been issued; nor have the archives been opened to independent researchers. Nevertheless, we are in a position to make reasonably sound estimates of the numbers who died
First, we should consider the total loss for the whole cycle of events, both in the dekulakization and in the famine. In principle this is not difficult
We need only apply to the population given in the Soviet census of 1926, the natural growth rate of the years which followed, and compare the result we obtain with that of an actual post-1933 census.
There are a few rather minor reservations. The 1926 census, like all censuses even in far more efficient conditions, cannot be totally accurate, and Soviet and Western estimates agree that it is too low by 1.2-1.5 million, (about 800,000 of it attributed to the Ukraine). This would mean an increase of almost half a million in the death roll estimates. But the convenience of an official established base figure, that of the census, is such that we shall (conservatively) ignore this in our calculations. Then again, 'natural growth rate' is variously estimated, though within a fairly narrow range. More of an obstacle, at first sight, is the fact that the next census, taken in January 1937, is unfortunately not available. The preliminary results seem to have been before the authorities on about 10 February 1937. The census was then suppressed. The Head of the Census Board, O.A. Kvitkin, was arrested on 25 March. It turned out that 'the glorious Soviet intelligence headed by the Stalinist Peoples' Commissar N.I. Yezhov' had 'crushed the serpent's nest of traitors in the apparatus of Soviet statistics'. The traitors had 'set themselves the task of distorting the actual numbers of the population', or (as Pravda put it later) 'had exerted themselves to diminish the numbers of the population of the USSR', a rather unfair taunt, since it was, of course, not they who had done the diminishing.
The motive for suppressing the census and the census-takers is reasonably clear. A figure of about 170 million had featured in official speeches and estimates for several years, a symbolic representation of Molotov's boast in January 1935 that 'the gigantic growth of population shows the living forces of Soviet construction'.
Another census was taken in January 1939, the only one in the period whose results were published, but in the circumstances it has always failed to carry much conviction. All the same, it is worth noting that even if the official 1939 figures are accepted, they show huge population deficit, if not as large as the reality.
But on the matter of the total of unnatural deaths between 1926 and 1937, the 1937 census totals are decisive, and these (though no other details of that census) have been referred to a few times in post-Stalin Soviet demographic publications. The most specific gives a population for the USSR of 163,772,000, others, a round 164 million.
The total, in the lower projections made over previous years by Soviet statisticians, and on the estimates of modern demographers, should have been about 177,300,000.
Another, rougher approach is to take the estimated population of 1 January 1930 (157,600,000) and add to it Stalin's statement in 1935 that 'the annual increase in population is about three million'. This too gives a figure of 178,600,000, very near our other projection. The Second Five Year Plan had also provided for a population of 180.7 million for the beginning of 1938, which also implies between 177 and 178 in 1937. Oddly enough, the Head of the Central Statistical Administration in Khrushchev's time, V.N. Starovsky, attributes Gosplan's 180.7 million to 1937, comparing it with the census figure of 164 million even after adjustment' - a phrase which implies significant upward inflation: an 'adjustment' of 5% would mean as a base figure the 156 million given to the Soviet scholar Anton Antonov-Ovseenko by a more junior official. But, in accord with our practice elsewhere, we will conservatively ignore the 'adjustment'. Without it Starovsky implies a deficiency of 16.7 million. The explanation may be that the Gosplan figure, like most Gosplan figures, is for the beginning of October 1937- in which case the deficiency would be about 14.3 million. But in this book's first edition I took a conservative interpretation (and ignored, too, even higher projections by Soviet demographers of the period) and accepted a deficiency of no more than 13.5 million.
However, in a source not then available to me, today's leading Soviet scholar of the collectivization states the population deficit in January 1937 as 15-16 million (V.P. Danilov in Arkheograficheski Ezbegodnik za 1968 god, Moscow, 1970, p 249). My lower estimate at least shows that my approach was indeed 'conservative', and is testimony to a sober and unsensational approach to the facts.
This 15-16 million is not entirely death. We have to subtract those unborn because of the deaths or separation of their parents and so on. Further study of this and similar periods of population catastrophe shows that it might be as high as 26-30 percent of the total deficit. This could give c. 4.5 million, leaving us with c. 11 million actual dead in the dekulakization and the famine.
(Another approach is to note that in 1938 there were c. 19,900,000 peasant households. In 1929 it had been c. 25,900,000. At an average of 4.2 persons per peasant family, this means c. 108,700,000 peasants in 1929 and c. 83,600,000 in 1938. With 24.3 million moved to towns, this should have been c. 105 million, a deficit of c. 21 million. Allowing for date and the unborn, this gives over 13 million dead.)
Taking it as 11 million odd we must add those peasants already sentenced, but dying in labour camp after January 1937 - that is, those arrested as a result of the assault on the peasantry of 1930-33 and not surviving their sentences (but not including the many peasants arrested in the more general terror of 1937-8). This gives, (as we shall estimate later), not less than another 3.5 million, which would make the total peasant dead as a result of the dekulakization and famine about 14.5 million.
We must next consider the way in which this fearful total is divided between the dekulakization and the famine. Here we are on less certain ground.
It seems to be felt in demographic circles that of the fourteen million plus odd peasant deaths due to the rural terror, the casualties fell about equally between the two causes: that is about seven million plus from dekulakization and about seven million plus in the famine. However, we can examine this proposition in more detail.
Of the 14.5 million, the 3.5 million odd dying in camps in the post-1937 period must be largely those sentenced before the decree of May 1933, though it certainly included an important component from the desperate villages of the Ukraine and the Kuban of the famine period. These last are not, however, specifically victims of the famine itself, and to discover the death roll from starvation we must go back to the eleven million dead before 1937, and attempt to divide that figure between deportation and famine victims.
We may start with the victims of the famine: and here we begin with the deficit in the Ukrainian population. (As we have said, this does not account for the whole of the famine victims, but unofficial figures imply that about 80% of the mortality was in the Ukraine and the largely Ukrainian areas of the North Caucasus).
For the deficit of Ukrainians we must first turn to the faked 1939 census, since, as we have said, no figures by nationality -- indeed nothing but the gross population result -- has been published even now from the genuine 1937 census on which we have hitherto relied.
The official figure for the Soviet population in the 'census' of January 1939 was 170,467,186. Western demographic work indicates that the real numbers were probably about 167.2 million. (Even this last figure indicates a sharp recovery from 1937, in spite of an estimated two to three million dead in camps or by execution in 1937 and 1938. It appears to be explained in part by natural and in part by legal factors. Recovery in the birthrate after disaster or famine is normal; the copulation and fertility rates which have gone down drastically in them improve later. On the official side, in 1936 abortion was made illegal, and contraceptives ceased to be sold; and other measures were taken).
Of the official figure of 170,467,186 the census gives Ukrainians as 28,070,404 (as against 31,194,976 in the 1926 census). There is no way of telling how the 3.4 million inflation in the 170.5 million is distributed, and it is normally assumed that each nationality group was proportionately exaggerated (though the better concealment tactics might imply a special attempt to give the Ukrainians an extra boost, considering their poor showing).
Given no more than equal exaggeration, the true Ukrainian figure in 1939 should have been about 27,540,000. But the 31.2 million of 1926 should have risen to about 38 million in 1939. The deficit is therefore about 10.5 million. Allowing about 1.5 million for unborn children, this gives a deficit of 9 million Ukrainians up to 1939.
This does not all represent death. By 1939 heavy pressures were being put on Ukrainians outside the Ukraine to register as Russian, and a significant transfer certainly took place. A Soviet demographer grants that between the 1926 and 1939 censuses 'the low rate of growth (!) in the number of Ukrainians is explained by the lowering of the natural growth as a result of a poor harvest in the Ukraine in 1932', but adds that 'people who formerly thought of themselves as Ukrainians, in 1939 declared themselves Russians'. And we are told, for example, that people with forged documents often changed their nationality, as Ukrainians were always suspect to the police.
This applied not in the Ukraine so much as among the Ukrainians elsewhere in the USSR. There were 8,536,000 of them in 1926, including 1,412,000 in the Kuban. The remnant of the Kuban Cossacks are definitely reported as being re-registered as Russian, but by now their numbers must have been very much lower than in 1926. Elsewhere it seems to have been a matter of pressure on individuals, and was doubtless a long-term process - even in the 1959 census there were over 5 million Ukrainians in the USSR outside the Ukraine. If we assume a transfer of as many as 2.5 million from the Ukrainian to the Russian listings, that leaves us with 9 minus 2.5 = 6.5 million actually dead.
Subtracting about 500,000 for the Ukrainian dead of the dekulakization of 1929-32, we are left with six million dead in the famine.
This would be divided into five million in the Ukraine and one million in the North Caucasus. The figure for non-Ukrainians may be as little as one million dead. Thus the total famine deaths would be approximately seven million, about three million of them children. As we have pointed out, these are conservative figures.
A further clue to the numbers dying in the famine, or in its worst period, may be found in the difference between the Census Board's estimate of the population made shortly before the 1937 census, and the actual figures of that census. The prediction is 168.9 million; the actuality 163,772,000- a difference of just over five million. 'This is believed to be accounted for by the non-registration of deaths in the Ukraine after late October 1932 which meant that such figures were not at the disposal of the estimators; and in consonant with the other figures we have for deaths in the famine as a whole.
We also have a number of less direct estimates of the famine deaths, including some based on official leaks.
A Russian-born American citizen who had a pre-revolutionary acquaintance with Skrypnyk visited him in 1933, and also met other Ukrainian leaders. Skrypnyk gave him a figure of 'at least' eight million dead in the Ukraine and North Caucasus. He was also told by the Ukrainian GPU chief Balitsky that eight~nine million had perished: Balitsky added that this figure had been presented to Stalin, though only as an approxmation. Another security officer writes that, perhaps at an earlier stage, the GPU gave Stalin a figure of 3.3-3.5 million famine deaths. A foreign Communist was given figures of ten million deaths for the USSR as a whole.
Another foreign worker in a Kharkov factory, when the famine was still far from over, learnt from local officials that Petrovsky had admitted a death roll, so far, of five million.
Walter Duranty told the British Embassy in September 1933 that 'the population of the North Caucasus and Lower Volga had decreased in the past year by three million, and the population of the Ukraine by four to five million', and that it seemed 'quite possible' that the total death roll was as high as ten million. It seems reasonable to suppose that Duranty's figures derive from the same source as those, also never printed, given one of his colleagues by another high official (see p. 310): or at any rate from similar official estimates circulating among authorities on the spot.
An American Communist working in Kharkov estimated a death roll of 4.5 million, from starvation alone, with millions more from the diseases of malnutrition. Another American was told by a high Ukrainian official that six million had died in 1933. A Ukrainian-Canadian Communist who attended the Higher Party School of the Ukrainian Central Committee was told that a secret report to this Committee gave a figure of ten million dead.
As to other areas, decreases proportionally as high as the Ukraine, or nearly so, are reported in the Central Volga, Lower Volga and Don regions. The Director of the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant, Lovin, told a foreign correspondent that more than a million had died in the Urals, Western Siberia and the Trans-Volga.
These estimates, it should be noted, are not all necessarily comparable, since it is not always clear - though it sometimes is - if the total deaths in the Ukraine alone are referred to; or to what date the figures refer; or to whether deaths from famine-related diseases are included.
In any case, even the confidential official reports vary by several million. Nor need we assume that exact or even approximate figures were available (as, in fact, the report of Balitsky's estimate explicitly admits). As Leonid Plyushch says, 'party members cited a figure of five or six million.., and others spoke of about ten million victims. The true figure probably lies in between'.
While our figure of c. eleven million premature deaths in 1926-37 remains firm, the c. seven million share of it in famine deaths is best described as reasonable or probable. If it is correct it leaves c. four million of the deaths to dekulakization and collectivization (or those taking place before 1937).
Among this four million are included the dead of the Kazakh tragedy. Among the Kazakhs the population deficit between the 1926 and 1939 censuses (even accepting the latter's figures) was 3,968,300 minus 3,100,900: that is, 867,400. Correcting the 1939 figure by the national average (as we have done for the Ukrainians) gives us 948,000. But the 1926 population should have grown to 4,598,000 in 1939 - (on the very conservative assumption that the average USSR growth rate of 15.7% prevailed, whereas in fact other Soviet Muslim populations grew much faster). That is, the population should have been over 1.5 million higher than it was. If we allow 300,000 for unborn children and 200,000 for successful emigration from the areas closest to Sinkiang, we have a death roll of one million.
Thus we are left with three million as the 1926-37 deficit attributable to the deportation of the kulaks. We have already discussed the numbers deported, and the reported death rates. Three million is a figure which is consonant with our estimates (if 30% of deportees died, it would mean 9 million deported; if 25%, then twelve million would be the deportation total).
By 1935, in one approximate view, a third of an estimated eleven million deportees were dead; a third in 'special settlement'; and a third in labour camp. Estimates of the total 1935 labour camp population run at around the five million level, and up till the mass arrests of officials in 1936-8, these are always reported as 'overwhelmingly', 70~80%, peasant.
Of the four million odd peasants probably in camp by 1935, most probably survived until 1937 or 1938, but thereafter the likelihood is that no more than ten percent ever saw release, and we must thus, as we have noted, probably add a minimum of another c. 3.5 million deaths to the peasant account.
Throughout, our conclusions are based either on exact and certain figures, or on reasonably conservative assumptions. So when we conclude that no fewer than fourteen million odd peasants lost their lives as a result of the events recounted in this book we may well be understating. In any case, the eleven million odd excess dead shown by the 1937 census is hardly subject to serious amendment. The famine figures seem both reasonable in themselves and consonant with the census's shortfall; as do the dekulakization figures.
Why we cannot be more exact is obvious. As Khrushchev says in his memoirs, 'I can't give an exact figure because no one was keeping count. All we knew was that people were dying in enormous numbers.
It is significant that statistics (even if unreliable) of the mortality of cattle were published, and those of human mortality were not -- so that for fifty years we have had some account of what happened to the livestock but not what happened to the human beings. In much published speech a couple of years later Stalin was to say that more care should be taken of people, giving as an example something that supposedly happened to him in exile in Siberia: by a river-crossing with some peasants, he saw that they made every effort to save horses from being swept away, but cared little for the loss of a man, an attitude he deplored at some length. Even for Stalin, whose words seldom revealed his true attitudes, this was -- and particularly at this time -- a complete reversal of truth. It was he and his followers for whom human life was lowest on the scale of values.
We may now conveniently sum up the estimated death toll roughly as follows:
Peasant dead: 1930-37: 11 million
Arrested in this period dying in camps later: 3.5 million
TOTAL: 14.5 million
Dead as a result of dekulakization: 6.5 million
Dead in the Kazakh catastrophe: 1 million
Dead in the 1932-3 famine: 7 million (5 in the Ukraine, 1 in the North Caucasus, 1 elsewhere)
As we have said, these are enormous figures, comparable to the deaths in the major wars of our time. And when it comes to the genocidal element, to the Ukrainian figures alone, we should remember that five million constitutes about 18.8% of the total population of the Ukraine (and about a quarter of the rural population). In World War I less than 1% of the population of the countries at war died. In one Ukrainian village of 800 inhabitants (Pysarivka in Podiia), where 150 had died, a local peasant ironically noted that only seven villagers had been killed in World War I.
In the events which we have been describing the 'casualties' in a general sense, the 'walking wounded', constitute whole populations. Our concern, in this chapter, has been to establish as closely as may be possible the actual dead. But we need not for a moment forget the dreadful effects suffered, and far into the future, by individuals and nations.
Moreover, further terrors, inflicting yet further death on much the same scale, faced the survivors.
Let us once more emphasize that the figures we have given are conservative estimates, and quite certainly do not overstate the truth. And if we cannot be more exact, it is because the Soviet regime will not let us. It is not only a matter of Stalin concealing the true facts back in the 1930s.
We owe a number of useful details to honest and courageous Soviet scholars and writers: but, even today, Moscow permits no real investigation of these monstrous events. Which is to say that to this degree the regime remains the accomplice, as well as the heir, of those who fifty years ago sent these innocent millions to their deaths.
[. . . . . ]
In the case of the 'kulaks' dead or deported in 1930-32, there is no problem. They were the victims of conscious governmental action against 'class enemies'; Communist officials were discussing the necessity of 'destroying' five million people even before the measures had taken effect;' and Stalin himself, to all intents and purposes, later admitted the extent of the slaughter. When it comes to the great famine of 1932-3, however, a great effort was made at the time -- and is still to some degree persisted in today -- to obscure or obfuscate the truth.
[. . . . ]
Petrovsky himself is reported by a peasant as walking through a village past all the dead and dying. He also promised a crowd of starving peasants at Chornukhy that he would speak of it in Moscow, but perhaps did not do so. When a factory official told Petrovsky that his employees were talking of five million people having already died and asked what he should tell them, he is quoted as answering, 'Tell them nothing! What they say is true. We know that millions are dying. That is unfortunate, but the glorious future of the Soviet Union will justify that. Tell them nothing! '
But we know that the top Moscow Stalinists too knew of the famine. Molotov visited the Ukrainian countryside late in 1932 and is reported to have been approached by district officials who told him that there was no grain and that the population was starving. Kaganovich is also reported in Poltava in the winter, receiving the same information from local Party veterans, who soon found themselves expelled. As for the others in the Politburo, Khrushchev tells us that Mikoyan was approached by Demchenko, First Secretary of the Kiev Provincial Committee, who asked him if Stalin and the Politburo knew what was going on in the Ukraine. Demchenko went on to describe a train pulling into Kiev station loaded with corpses it had picked up all the way from Poltava.
Khrushchev himself says that 'we knew... that people were dying in enormous numbers'. That is, the high party circles in Moscow among whom he moved were well aware of the facts. Indeed, when the veteran revolutionary Fedor Raskolnikov defected, when Soviet Ambassador to Bulgaria, his open letters to Stalin made it clear that the inner party knew perfectly well that the famine had been, as he put it, 'organized'.
[. . . . . ]
When she told all this to Stalin, he reproached her for collecting ‘Trotskyite gossip’, had Pauker, head of his bodyguard, arrest the offending students, and ordered the OGPU and the Party Control Commission to institute a special purge of the students in all colleges who had taken part in the collectivization. The quarrel which led to Nadezhda Alliluyeva’s suicide on 5 November 1932 seems to have taken place on this very issue.
In addition to all this, as we have noted, Stalin got reports from the OGPU of millions dying in the famine.
[. . . . . ]
But perhaps the most conclusive point in establishing the deliberate nature of the famine lies in the fact that the Ukrainian-Russian border was in effect blockaded to prevent the entry of grain into the Ukraine. In fact 'Troops were stationed at the borders of the Ukraine to prevent them from leaving'. On the trains and in the stations OGPU men would check travelers for travel permits. The last station between Kiev and the border, Mikhaylivka, was surrounded by an armed OGPU detachment, and all without special passes were held, and loaded on freight trains back to Kiev next morning. Of course, some nevertheless got through. People 'tried extraordinary tricks, used fictitious stories, merely to travel' to Russia, 'to buy a little of something edible in exchange for the last fur coats, for carpets and linen, to bring it home and so save their children from dying of hunger'
[. . . . . ]
As to Stalin's personal guilt (and that of Molotov, Kaganovich, Postyshev and the others) it is true that, as with Hitler's responsibility for the Jewish holocaust, we cannot document the responsibility in the sense that any decree exists in which Stalin orders the famine.
But the only possible defense, such as it is, would be to assume that Stalin merely ordered excessive requisitions out of ignorance of the true position, and had no mens rea; and this is contradicted by the powerful considerations which we have examined.
We may add that the banning of foreign reporters from the famine areas is, indeed, a further tacit admission by the authorities of what was going on.
We may sum the matter up as follows:
1. The cause of the famine was the setting of highly excessive grain requisition targets by Stalin and his associates.
2. Ukrainian party leaders made it clear at the start to Stalin and his associates that these targets were highly excessive.
3. The targets were nevertheless enforced until starvation began.
4. Ukrainian leaders pointed this out to Stalin and his associates and the truth was also made known to him and them by others.
5. the requisitions nevertheless continued.
Such are the major points. We may add as subsidiary evidence:
6. bread rations, even though low ones, were established in the cities, but no such minimum food allowance was made in the villages.
7. grain was available in store in the famine area, but was not released to the peasants in their extremity.
8. orders were given, and enforced as far as possible, to prevent peasants entering the towns, and to expel them when they did.
9. orders were given, and enforced, to prevent food, legally obtained, being brought over the republican borders from Russia to the Ukraine.
10. the fact of famine, and a particularly frightful famine at that, is fully established by witnesses - high Communist officials, local activists, foreign observers and the peasants themselves. Nevertheless, it was made illegal, within the USSR, to suggest that there was a famine; Soviet spokesmen abroad were instructed to deny that famine existed; and to this day the phenomenon is not admitted in the official literature, (though confirmed, fairly recently and fairly rarely, in certain Soviet fiction).
The only conceivable defense is that Stalin and his associates did not know about the famine. This appears impossible to maintain in the face of the above. The verdict must be that they knew that the decrees of 1932 would result in famine, that they knew in the course of the famine itself that this had indeed been the result, and that orders were issued to ensure that the famine was not alleviated, and to confine it to certain areas.
When it comes to motive, the special measures against the Ukraine and the Kuban were specifically linked with, and were contemporaneous with, a public campaign against their nationalism. In these, and the other areas affected, the apparent concern in the agrarian sphere proper was to break the spirit of the most recalcitrant regions of peasant resentment at collectivization. And when it comes to the Party itself the result, and presumable intention, was to eliminate those elements insufficiently disciplined in the suppression of bourgeois-humanitarian feelings.
[. . . . . ]
The main lesson seems to be that the Communist ideology provided the motivation for an unprecedented massacre of men, women and children. And that this ideology, perhaps all set-piece theory, turned out to be a primitive and schematic approach to matters far too complex for it. The sacrifices were made, (of other people), and they were in vain.
The question whether the present leaders of the USSR would be willing to kill tens of millions of foreigners, or suffer a loss of millions of their own subjects, in a war is sometimes canvassed nowadays. The fact that the older leaders were direct accomplices in the actual killing of millions of Ukrainians and others, in order to establish the political and social order prescribed by their doctrine, and that the young leaders still justify the procedure, may perhaps be regarded as not without some relevance. Thus, as we have suggested earlier, the events described in this book cannot be shrugged off as part of the dead past, too remote to be of any current significance. On the contrary, until they can be freely and frankly investigated the present rulers of the USSR remain -- and ostentatiously so -- the heirs and accomplices of the dreadful history. . . .
Excerpts from The Black Book of Communism; A
State against Its People: Violence, Repression, and Terror in the Soviet Union
by Nicolas Werth
[… pg. 48] Since its founding in 1903, the party had remained outside the other currents of social democracy in both Russia and Europe, chiefly because of its will to break radically with the existing social and political order and because of its conception of itself as a highly structured, disciplined, elitist avant-garde of professional revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks were thus the complete opposite of the Menshevik and other European social-democratic parties, which allowed large memberships and widely differing points of view.
World War I further
distilled Leninist Bolshevism. Rejecting collaboration with all other currents
of social democracy, Lenin became increasingly isolated, justifying his
theoretical position in essays like Imperialism, the Highest Stage of
Capitalism. He began to argue that the revolution was destined to occur not
in countries where capitalism was most advanced, but rather in countries like
Russia that were considerably less developed economically, provided that the
revolutionary movement was led by a disciplined avant-garde of revolutionaries
who were prepared to go to extremes. That meant, in this case, creating a
dictatorship of the proletariat and transforming "the imperialist war"
into a civil war.
[… pg. 55] "Henceforth such individuals are to
be described as 'enemies of the people.' Their names will be printed in all
newspapers, and lists of the enemies of the people will be put up in public
places." A few days after these lists were published, a new proclamation
was issued: "All individuals suspected of sabotage, speculation, and
opportunism are now liable to be arrested immediately as enemies of the people
and transferred to the Kronstadt prisons." In the space of a few days the
PRMC had introduced two new notions that were to have lasting consequences: the
idea of the "enemy of the people" and the idea of the
On 28 November (11
December) the government institutionalized the notion of "enemy of the
people." A decree signed by Lenin stipulated that "all leaders of the
Constitutional Democratic Party, a party filled with enemies of the people, are
hereby to be considered outlaws, and are to be arrested immediately and brought
before a revolutionary court." Such courts had just been set up in
accordance with "Order Number One regarding the Courts," which
effectively abolished all laws that "were in contradiction with the worker
and peasant government, or with the political programs of the Social Democratic
or Socialist Revolutionary parties." While waiting for the new penal code
to be drawn up, judges were granted tremendous latitude to assess the validity
of existing legislation "in accordance with revolutionary order and
legality," a notion so vague that it encouraged all sorts of abuses. The
courts of the old regime were immediately suppressed and replaced by people's
courts and revolutionary courts to judge crimes and misdemeanors committed
"against the proletarian state," "sabotage,"
"espionage," "abuse of one's position," and other
"counterrevolutionary crimes." As Dmitry Kursky, the people's
commissar of justice from 1918 to 1928, recognized, the revolutionary courts
were not courts in the normal "bourgeois" sense of the term at all,
but courts of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and weapons in the struggle
against the counterrevolution, whose main concern was eradication rather than
judgment. Among the revolutionary courts was a "revolutionary press
court," whose role was to judge all crimes committed by the press and to
suspend any publication found to be "sowing discord in the minds of the
people by deliberately publishing erroneous news."
[… pg. 67] The political effects of the hardening
of the dictatorship in the spring of 1918 included the complete shutdown of all
non-Bolshevik newspapers, the forcible dissolution of all non-Bolshevik soviets,
the arrest of opposition leaders, and the brutal repression of many strikes. In
May and June 1918, 205 of the Opposition socialist newspapers were finally
closed down. The mostly Menshevik or Socialist Revolutionary soviets of Kaluga,
Tver, Yaroslavi, Ryazan, Kostroma, Kazan, Saratov, Penza, Tambov, Voronezh,
Orel, and Vologda were broken up by force. Everywhere the scenario was almost
identical: a few days alter victory by the opposing party and the consequent
formation of a new Soviet, the Bolshevik detachment would call for an armed
force, usually a detachment of the Cheka, which then proclaimed martial law and
arrested the Opposition leaders.
Dzerzhinsky, who had sent
his principal collaborators into towns that had Initially been won by the
opposing parties, was an unabashed advocate of the use of force, as can be seen
clearly from the directive he sent on 31 May 1918 to A. V. Eiduk, his
plenipotentiary on a mission to Tver: "The workers, under the influence of
the Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries, and other counterrevolutionary
bastards, have all gone on strike, and demonstrated in favor of a government
made up of all the different socialist parties. Put big posters up all over the
town saying that the Cheka will execute on the spot any bandit, thief,
speculator, or counterrevolutionary found to be conspiring against the soviet.
Levy an extraordinary tax on all bourgeois residents of the town, and make a
list of them, as that will be very useful if things start happening. You ask how
to form the local Cheka: just round up all the most resolute people you can, who
understand that there is nothing more effective than a bullet in the head to
shut people up. Experience has shown me that you only need a small number of
people like that to turn a whole situation around."
The dissolution of the
soviets held by the opposition, and the expulsion on 14 June 1918 of all
Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries from the All-Russian Central Executive
Committee of Soviets, provoked protests and strikes in many working-class towns,
where, to make matters worse, the food situation was still steadily
deteriorating. In Kolpino, near Petrograd, the leader of a Cheka detachment
ordered his troops to open fire on a hunger march organized by workers whose
monthly ration of bread had fallen to two pounds. There were ten deaths. On the
same day, in the Berezovsky factory, near Ekaterinburg, fifteen people were
killed by a detachment of Red Guards at a meeting called to protest against
Bolshevik commissars who were accused of confiscating the most impressive
properties in the town and of keeping for themselves the 150-ruble tax they had
levied on the bourgeoisie. The next day the local authorities declared a state
of martial law, and fourteen people were immediately executed by the local
Cheka, who refrained from mentioning this detail to headquarters in Moscow.
[… pg. 83] The left Socialist Revolutionaries, who
were allies of the Bolsheviks until the summer of 1918, were treated with
relative leniency until February 1919. As late as December 1918 their most
famous leader, Maria Spiridonova, presided over a party congress that was
tolerated by the Bolsheviks. However, on 10 February 1919, after she condemned
the terror that was being carried out on a daily basis by the Cheka, she was
arrested with 210 other militants and sentenced by a revolutionary court to
"detention in a sanatorium on account of her hysterical state." This
action seems to be the first example under the Soviet regime of the sentencing
of a political opponent to detention in a psychiatric hospital. Spiridonova
managed to escape and continued secretly to lead the left Socialist
Revolutionary Party, which by then had been banned by the Soviet government.
According to Cheka sources, fifty-eight left Socialist Revolutionary
organizations were disbanded in 1919, and another forty-five in 1920. In these
two years 1,875 militants were imprisoned as hostages, in response to
Dzerzhinsky's instructions. He had declared, on 18 March 1919: "Henceforth
the Cheka is to make no distinction between White Guards of the Krasnov variety
and White Guards from the socialist camp. . . The Socialist Revolutionaries and
the Mensheviks arrested are to be considered as hostages, and their fate will
depend on the subsequent behavior of the parties they belong to."
[… pg. 99] All these measures were part of the
pre-established de-Cossackization plan approved in a secret resolution of the
Bolshevik Party's Central Committee on 24 January 1919: "In view of the
experiences of the civil war against the Cossacks, we must recognize as the only
politically correct measure massive terror and a merciless fight against the
rich Cossacks, who must be exterminated and physically disposed of, down to the
[… pg. 102] Among the atrocities whose scale is the
most difficult to gauge are the massacres of prisoners and hostages who were
taken simply on the basis of their "belonging to an enemy class" or
being "socially undesirable." These massacres were part of the logic
of the Red Terror in the second half of 1918, but on an even larger scale. The
massacres on the basis of class were constantly justified with the claim that a
new world was coming into being, and that everything was permitted to assist the
difficult birth, as an editorial explained in the first issue of Krasnyi mech
(The Red sword), the newspaper of the Kyiv Cheka: "We reject the old
systems of morality and humanity invented by the bourgeoisie to oppress
and exploit the lower classes. Our morality has no precedent, and our
humanity is absolute because it rests on a new ideal. Our aim is to destroy all
forms of oppression and violence. To us, everything is permitted, for we are the
first to raise the sword not to oppress races and reduce them to slavery, but to
liberate humanity from its shackles. . . Blood? Let blood flow like water! Let
blood stain forever the black pirate's flag flown by the bourgeoisie, and let
our flag be blood-red forever! For only through the death of the old world can
we liberate ourselves forever from the return of those jackals!" Such murderous calls found many ready to
respond, and the ranks of the Cheka were filled with social elements anxious for
[… pg. 116] Order No.
171, dated 11 June 1921 and signed by Antonov-Ovseenko and Tukhachevsky, shows
clearly the sorts of methods used to "pacify" Tambov Province. The
1.Shoot on sight any citizens who refuse to give their names.
2.District and Regional Political Commissions are hereby authorized to pronounce sentence on any village where arms are being hidden, and to arrest hostages and shoot them if the whereabouts of the arms are not revealed.
3.Wherever arms are found, execute immediately the eldest son in the family.
4.Any family that has harbored a bandit is to be arrested and deported from the province, their possessions are to be seized, and the eldest son is to be executed immediately.
5.Any families sheltering other families who have harbored bandits are to be punished in the same manner, and their eldest son is to be shot.
6.In the event that bandit families have fled, their possessions are to be redistributed among peasants who are loyal to the Soviet regime, and their houses are to be burned or demolished.
7.These orders are to be carried out rigorously and without mercy.
The day after Order No.
171 was sent out, Tukhachevsky ordered all rebels to be gassed. "The
remnants of the defeated rebel gangs and a few isolated bandits are still hiding
in the forests. . . The forests where the bandits are hiding are to be cleared
by the use of poison gas. This must be carefully calculated, so that the layer
of gas penetrates the forests and kills everyone hiding there. The artillery
inspector is to provide the necessary amounts of gas immediately, and find staff
qualified to carry out this sort of operation."
On 10 July 1921 the head
of a five-member commission on the measures taken against the
"bandits" in Tambov Province reported: "Mopping-up operations in
the Kudryukovskaya volost began on 27 June in the village of Ossineke, which in
the past has been a known hideout for bandits. The attitude of peasants toward
our detachments is perhaps best described as one of mistrust. They refused to
name the bandits in the forests, and when asked questions they replied that they
knew nothing. We took some forty hostages, declared the village to be under a
state of siege, and gave the villagers two hours to hand over the bandits and
their arms. The villagers then called a meeting, where it was apparent that they
were undecided as to how to respond; but they resolved not to provide active
help in the hunt for the bandits. Undoubtedly they had not taken seriously our
threat to shoot the hostages. When the deadline had passed, we executed
twenty-one of the hostages before the village assembly. These public executions,
in accordance with the usual procedure, were carried out one by one in the
presence of all five members of the Plenipotentiary Commission, and had a
considerable effect on the peasants. Regarding the village of Kareevka, which
was a bandit stronghold because of its geographical situation, the commission
decided to strike it from the map. The whole population was deported and their
possessions confiscated, with the exception of the families of soldiers serving
in the Red Army, who were transferred to the town of Kurdyuki and relocated in
houses previously occupied by the families of bandits. After objects of value
had been removed--window frames, glass, wooden objects, and other such
items--all the houses in the village were set on fire. On 3 July we began
operations in the town of Bogoslovka.
[… pg. 146] Recent research in the newly accessible
archives has confirmed that the forced collectivization of the countryside was
in effect a war declared by the Soviet state on a nation of smallholders. More
than 2 million peasants were deported (1.8 million in 1930-31 alone), 6 million
died of hunger, and hundreds of thousands died as a direct result of
deportation. Such figures, however, only hint at the size of this human tragedy.
Far from being confined to the winter of 1929-30, the war dragged on until the
mid-1930s and was at its peak in 1932 and 1933, which were marked by a terrible
famine, deliberately provoked by the authorities to break the resistance of the
peasants. The violence used against the peasants allowed the authorities to
experiment with methods that would later be used against other social groups. In
that respect it marked a decisive step in the development of Stalinist terror.
[… pg. 185] Toward the end of the 1960s, on the
basis of eyewitness statements from Soviet citizens who had come to the West and
the evidence in both émigré publications and Soviet publications in the years
of the Khrushchev thaw, the historian Robert Conquest first drew up the general
outlines of the Great Terror. Some of his extrapolations about the power
structures and the number of victims involved have subsequently been disproved.
Conquest's work began an
enormous debate about the extent to which the terror was a centralized
phenomenon, about the respective roles of Ezhov and Stalin, and about the number
of victims involved. Certain American historians of the revisionist school
contested the idea that Stalin had carefully planned the events of 1936-1938.
Stressing instead the increasing tension between the central authorities and
ever-more-powerful local authorities, as well as isolated instances of excessive
zeal, they attempted to explain the exceptional scale of the repressions of
1936-1938 by the notion that local authorities had found innumerable scapegoats
on which to carry out the terror, so that they could deflect the terror that was
actually being directed at them. In this way local officials tried to
demonstrate to the central authorities their vigilance and intransigence in the
struggle against the common enemy.
Another disagreement arose
about the number of victims. For Conquest and his followers, the Great Terror
led to at least 6 million arrests, 3 million executions, and 2 million deaths in
the camps. Revisionist historians regard these figures as somewhat inflated.
Even the partial opening
of the Soviet archives has allowed historians to see the Great Terror in a new
light. Other studies have already retraced the extraordinarily complex and
tragic story of the two bloodiest years of the Soviet regime. Our intention here
is to address some of the questions raised by the debate, notably the extent to
which the terror was a centralized phenomenon, and the categories and numbers of
On the question of the
centralization of the terror, documents from the Politburo that are now
accessible confirm that the mass repressions were indeed the result of
initiatives taken at the very top level of the Party, in the Politburo, and by
Stalin in particular. The organization and implementation of one of the
bloodiest repressions, the operation to "liquidate ex-kulaks, criminals,
and other anti-Soviet elements," which took place from August 1937 to May
1938, are quite revealing about the respective roles of central and local
Beginning in 1935-36, the
ultimate fate of the deported ex-kulaks had been a burning issue. Despite the
often-repeated ban on their leaving the places to which they had been assigned,
more and more of the "specially displaced" were gradually becoming
indistinguishable from the mass of free workers. In a report dated August 1936,
Rudolf Berman, chief of the Gulag Administration, wrote that "taking
advantage of the fairly lax manner in which they are guarded, numerous
'specially displaced,' who for some time have been working in the same teams as
free workers, have now left their place of residence. They are becoming more and
more difficult to pick out. In fact they often have special skills that make
them valuable as managers, and many of them have been able to get passports.
Many also have married free workers and now own houses."
Although many of the
"specially displaced" who had been assigned to reside on the
industrial sites were beginning to blend in with the local working classes,
others fled farther afield. Many of these so-called runaways who had no papers
and were homeless joined the gangs of socially marginal elements and petty
criminals that were increasingly to be found on the outskirts of most of the big
cities. Inspections carried out in the autumn of 1936 in certain komandatury
revealed situations that were intolerable in the eyes of the authorities. In the
region of Arkhangelsk, for example, of the 89,700 colonizers who had been
assigned residency there, a mere 37,000 remained.
The obsession with the
ideas of the kulak saboteur who had managed to infiltrate a business and of the
kulak bandit who roamed the streets goes some way toward explaining how this
"category" became the centerpiece in the great repressive operation
that Stalin concocted in early July 1937.
On 2 July 1937 the
Politburo sent local authorities a telegram ordering that "all kulaks and
criminals must be immediately arrested . . . and after trial before a troika [a
commission consisting of the regional Party first secretary, the procurator, and
the regional NKVD chief] the most hostile are to be shot, and the less active
but still hostile elements deported . . . It is the Central Committee's wish
that the composition of the troika be presented to it within five days, together
with the numbers of those shot and deported."
In the following weeks the
central authorities received "indicative figures" sent in by the local
authorities, on the basis of which Ezhov prepared Operational Order No. 00447,
dated 30 July 1937, which he submitted to the Politburo for ratification the
same day. During this particular operation 259,450 people were arrested and
72,950 shot. These numbers were inexact, since many regions had not yet sent
their calculations to the central authorities. As in the days of the
dekulakization operations, all regions received quotas for each of the two
categories: those to be shot and those to be deported.
It is notable that the
victims of this operation belonged to a mysterious sociopolitical group that was
much larger than the categories initially enumerated. Besides the
"ex-kulaks" and the "criminal elements," those to be found
now included "socially dangerous elements," "members of
anti-Soviet parties," "former tsarist civil servants," and
"White Guards." These designations were applied quite freely to any
suspect, regardless of whether he was a Party member, a member of the
intelligentsia, or an ordinary worker. The relevant offices of the GPU and the
NKVD had had many years to draw up the necessary lists of suspects, and plenty
of time to keep them up to date.
The operational order of
30 July 1937 also gave local leaders the right to ask Moscow for further lists
of suspects to be eliminated. The families of people condemned to the camps or
to death could also be arrested to swell the quotas.
By the end of August the
Politburo was assailed with numerous requests for the quotas to be raised. From
28 August to 15 December 1937 it ratified various proposals for increases so
that an additional 22,500 individuals were executed and another 16,800 were
condemned to camps. On 31 January 1938, at the instigation of the NKVD, a
further increase of 57,200 was accepted, 48,000 of whom were to be executed. All
operations were to have been finished on 15 March 1938, but once again the local
authorities, who had been purged several times in the preceding years and whose
new staff were eager to show their zeal, demanded another increase in the
numbers. From 1 February to 29 August 1938 the Politburo ratified the requests,
thus sanctioning the elimination of a further 90,000 suspects.
In this fashion, an
operation that was originally planned for four months went on for over a year,
and affected at least 200,000 more people than those originally planned for in
the quotas. Any individual suspected of the wrong social origins was a potential
victim. People living in the frontier zones were also particularly vulnerable,
as was anyone who had any contacts outside the country, no matter how far
removed. Such people, including anyone who owned a radio transmitter, collected
stamps, or spoke Esperanto, stood a very good chance of being accused of
espionage. From 6 August to 21 December 1937, at least ten operations similar to
the one begun by Operational Order No. 00447 were launched by the Politburo and
the NKVD to liquidate groups of suspected spies or "subversives"
nationality by nationality: Germans, Poles, Japanese, Romanians, Finns,
Lithuanians, Latvians, Greeks, and Turks. Over a fifteen-month period, from
August 1937 to November 1938, several hundred thousand people were arrested in
these anti-espionage operations.
Among the operations about
which some information is available (although it is still fragmentary; the
ex-KGB and Russian Presidential archives, where the most sensitive documents are
kept, are still secret and closed to researchers) are the following: The
operation to "liquidate the German contingent working in all offices linked
to National Defense" on 20 July 1937; The operation to "liquidate all
terrorist activity, subversion, and espionage by the network of Japanese
repatriated from Kharbin," launched on 19 September 1937; The operation to
"liquidate the right-wing military and Japanese; Cossack
organization," launched on 4 August 1937, in which more than 19,000 people
died from September to December 1937; The operation to "repress the
families of enemies of the people," set in motion by NKVD Order No. 00486
on 15 August 1937.
This very incomplete list
of one small part of the operations decreed by the Politburo and carried out by
the NKVD suffices to underscore the centralized nature of the mass repressions
of 1937 and 1938. These actions, like all the actions decided by the center but
implemented by local authorities--including dekulakization, the purging of the
towns, and the hunt for specialists-- were often carried out with tragic
excesses in the local communities.
[… pg. 228] The U.S.S.R. in 1945 is best remembered
as a country devastated but triumphant. As Francois Furet once wrote: "In
1945, as a great glorious state, the U.S.S.R. joined tremendous material might
to a messianic new vision of man." No one remembers, or at least no one
seems willing to recall, the other--well hidden--side of the story. As the Gulag
archives demonstrate, the year of victory was also the apogee of the Soviet
concentration-camp system. When peace was made with the rest of the world, the
struggles within continued unabated; there was no let-up in state control over a
society bruised from four years of war. On the contrary, 1945 was a year when
regions were reoccupied by the Soviet Union as the Red Army advanced west, and
when millions of Soviet citizens who had managed to escape the system were also
finally forced to submit.
The territories annexed in
1939-40--the Baltic states, western Belorussia, Moldavia, and western
Ukraine--which had been free of Soviet control during most of the war, were
forced to undergo a second process of Sovietization. Nationalist opposition
movements had sprung up in protest against the Soviet Union, beginning a cycle
of armed struggle, persecution, and repression. Resistance to annexation was
particularly fierce in western Ukraine and the Baltic states.
The first occupation of
western Ukraine, from September 1939 to June 1941, had brought about the
formation of a fairly powerful armed resistance movement, the OUN, or
Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Members of this organization
subsequently enlisted as special troops in SS units to fight Communists and
Jews. In July 1944, when the Red Army arrived, the OUN set up a Supreme Council
for the Liberation of Ukraine. Roman Shukhovich, the head of the OUN, became
commander of the UPA, the Ukrainian insurgent army. According to Ukrainian
sources, the UPA had more than 20,000 members by the autumn of 1944. On 31 March
1944, Beria signed an order stipulating that all family members of soldiers in
the OUN and UPA were to be arrested and deported to the region of Krasnoyarsk.
From February to October 1944, 100,300 civilians (mainly women, children, and
old people) were deported under Beria's order. As for the 37,000 soldiers who
were taken prisoner during this time, all were sent to the gulags. In November
1944, after the death of Monsignor Andrei Shcheptytsky, metropolitan of the
Uniate Church of Ukraine, the Soviet authorities forced that religious body to
merge with the Orthodox Church.
To root out all opposition
to Sovietization, NKVD agents targeted the schools. After leafing through the
schoolbooks of children who had attended school when western Ukraine had still
been a part of "bourgeois" Poland, they drew up lists of people to be
arrested as a preventive measure. At the top of these lists were the names of
the most able pupils, whom they judged to be "potentially hostile to the
Soviet system." According to a report by Kobulov, one of Beria's
assistants, more than 100,000 "deserters" and
"collaborators" Were arrested between September 1944 and March 1945 in
western Belorussia, another region considered "full of elements hostile to
the Soviet regime." The few statistics available for Lithuania in the
period 1 January-15 March 1945 note 2,257 ethnic-cleansing operations.
[… pg. 240] Faced with this huge increase in
prisoners who were far less docile than those in the past, and with a whole
series of logistical and surveillance problems (Gulag personnel now numbered
approximately 208,000), the enormous administrative machine found it more and
more difficult to produce its tufta--the false accounts of its success.
To resolve this enduring problem, the authorities had a choice of two solutions:
either to exploit all manpower to the maximum, without regard for human losses,
or to ensure the Gulag's survival by treating the manpower with greater
consideration. Until 1948 the first solution was preferred; but at the end of
the 1940s it dawned on Party leaders that with the country bled dry by the war
and manpower scarce in every sector of the economy, it was far more logical to
use the prisoner workforce in a more economical fashion. To try to stimulate
production, bonuses and salaries were introduced, and food rations were
increased for prisoners who met their quotas. As a result, the death rate fell
immediately by 2-3 percent. But the reforms quickly came up against the harsh
realities of life in the concentration camps.
[… pg. 243] Documents relating to this affair, which
are now available for the first time, confirm that the Doctors' Plot was a
decisive moment in the history of postwar Stalinism.' It marked both the peak of
the "anticosmopolitan" (that is, antisemitic) campaign that had begun
in 1949 (and whose first stirrings can be traced back to 1946-47) and the
beginning of a new general purge, a new Great Terror that was halted only by
Stalin's death, a few weeks after the story of the conspiracy broke. A third
factor of some importance was the power struggle among factions in the Ministry
of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of State Security, which had been separated
in 1946 and subjected to constant reorganizations ever since. Splits within the
secret police were a reflection of struggles at the very top of the hierarchy,
where Stalin's potential heirs were constantly jockeying for position. One final
troubling aspect of the affair was that eight years after public revelation of
the horrors of the Nazi death camps, it allowed the deep-seated tsarist
antisemitism, which the Bolsheviks had previously eschewed, to resurface, thus
demonstrating the confusion of the last years of Stalinism.
The complexities of this
affair, or rather of these several converging affairs, are not our concern here;
it is enough to recall the major outlines of the plot. In 1942 the Soviet
government, with a view to putting pressure on American Jews to force the U.S.
government to open a second front against Germany as soon as possible, set up a
Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, chaired by Solomon Mikhoels, the director
of the famous Yiddish theater in Moscow. Hundreds of Jewish intellectuals were
soon active in the movement, including the novelist Ilya Ehrenburg, the poets
Samuel Marchak and Peretz Markish, the pianist Emil Guilels, the writer Vasily
Grossman, and the physicist Pyotr Kapitza, the father of the Soviet nuclear
bomb. The committee soon outgrew its original purpose as an official propaganda
machine and became instead a genuine center for Jewish solidarity, and also a
representative body for Soviet Jewry. In February 1944 the leaders of the
committee--Mikhoels, Isaac Fefer, and Grigory Epstein--sent Stalin a letter
proposing the creation of an autonomous Jewish republic in the Crimea to replace
the largely unsuccessful national Jewish state of Birobidzhan established in the
1930s. During the previous decade fewer than 40,000 Jews had moved to this
distant, forgotten region of deserts and marshes in extreme eastern Siberia, on
the borders of China.
The committee also
dedicated itself to collecting statements about Nazi massacres of Jews and any
"abnormal events concerning Jews," a euphemism for any antisemitic
behavior noted in the population. There were a considerable number of such
"events." Antisemitic traditions were still strong in Ukraine and in
certain western regions of Russia, notably in the ancient "pale of
settlements" of the Russian empire, where Jews had been authorized to live
by the tsarist authorities. The first defeats of the Red Army revealed how
wide-spread antisemitism actually was among the population. NKVD reports about
attitudes of the population revealed that many people had responded positively
to Nazi propaganda claiming that the Germans were fighting only Communists and
Jews. In regions that had been occupied by the Germans, and particularly in
Ukraine, the open massacre of Jews met with little resistance from the local
population. The Germans recruited more than 80,000 troops in Ukraine, and some
of these definitely participated in the massacre of Jews. To counter Nazi
propaganda and to mobilize the whole of the country around the theme of the
struggle for survival of the whole Soviet people, Bolshevik ideology was
initially quite resistant to the specific nature of the Holocaust. It was
against this backdrop that first anti-Zionism and then official antisemitism
began to flourish. Antisemitism was particularly virulent in the Agitprop
(Agitation and Propaganda) Department of the Central Committee. As early as
August 1942 that body sent out an internal memorandum regarding "the
dominant role played by Jews in artistic, literary, and journalistic
The activism of the Jewish
Anti-Fascist Committee was soon a cause of concern to the authorities. In early
1945 the Jewish poet Peretz Markish was forbidden to publish. The appearance of
the Black Book about Nazi atrocities against Jews was canceled on the pretext
that "the central argument of the whole book is the idea that the Germans
made war on the U.S.S.R. only as an attempt to wipe out the Jews." On 12
October 1946, Viktor Abakumov, the minister of state security, sent a note to
the Central Committee about "the nationalist tendencies of the Jewish
Anti-Fascist Committee." Because Stalin sought to follow a foreign policy
favorable to the establishment of the state of Israel, he did not react
immediately. Only after the U.S.S.R. had voted at the United Nations to
partition Palestine, on 29 November 1947, was Abakumov given a free hand to
liquidate the committee.
On 19 December 1947
several of the committee's members were arrested. On 13 January 1948 Solomon
Mikhoels was found murdered in Minsk; according to the official version of
events, he had been in an auto accident. On 21 November 1948 the Jewish
Anti-Fascist Committee was broken up on the pretext that it had become a
"center for anti-Soviet propaganda," and its various publications,
including the notable Yiddish journal Einikait, were banned. In the following
weeks the remaining members of the committee were arrested, and in February 1949
the vast "anticosmopolitan" campaign began in the press. Jewish
theater critics were denounced for their inability to understand the Russian
national character: "What vision can a [Abram] Gurvich or a [Josif]
Yuzovsky possibly have of the national character of Russian Soviet men?"
asked Pravda on 2 February 1949. Hundreds of Jewish intellectuals were arrested,
notably in Moscow and Leningrad, in the first few months of 1949.
A revealing document from
this period, a decree from the Judicial Collegium of the Leningrad Court, dated
7 July 1949 and recently published in Neva magazine, condemned Achille
Grigorevich Leniton, Ilya Zeilkovich Sernian, and Rulf Alexandrovna Zevina to
ten years in the camps for several alleged crimes, most significantly for
"having criticized in an anti-Soviet manner the resolution of the Central
Committee regarding the magazines Zvezda and Leningrad . . . for interpreting
Marx's opinions on international affairs in a counterrevolutionary manner, for
praising cosmopolitan writers . . . and for spreading lies about Soviet
government policy regarding the question of nationality." After an appeal
the sentence was increased to twenty-five years by the Judicial Collegium of the
Supreme Court, which justified its verdict as follows: "The sentence passed
by the Leningrad Court failed to take account of the gravity of the offenses
committed . . . The accused had been involved in counterrevolutionary
activities, using nationalist prejudices to proclaim the superiority of one
nation over the other nations of the Soviet Union."
Thereafter Jews were
systematically removed from all positions of authority in the arts and the
media, in journalism and publishing, and in medicine and many other professions.
Arrests became more and more common, striking all sorts of milieus. A group of
"engineer saboteurs" in the metallurgy complex in Stalino, almost all
of whom were Jewish, were sentenced to death and executed on 12 August 1952.
Paulina Zhemchuzhina, Molotov's Jewish wife, who was a top manager in the
textile industry, was arrested on 21 January 1949 for "losing documents
containing state secrets" and was sent to a camp for five years. The wife
of Stalin's personal secretary Aleksandr Poskrebyshev, who was also Jewish, was
accused of espionage and shot in July 1952.
Both Molotov and Poskrebyshev continued to serve Stalin as though nothing
Despite this widespread
antisemitism, preparations for the trial of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee
dragged on for a long time. The trial did not begin, in camera, until May 1952,
more than two and a half years after the arrest of the accused. The incomplete
documentary evidence now available suggests two possible reasons for the
exceptionally long period of preparation. One is that Stalin was then
orchestrating in great secrecy the "Leningrad Affair," an important
case that together with the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee matter was to form one
of the cornerstones of the great final purge. The other is that Stalin was
concurrently involved in completely reorganizing the security services.
Abakumov's arrest in July 1951 proved to be the central episode in this
reorganization. This action was directed against the powerful Lavrenti Beria,
the longtime head of the secret police and a member of the Politburo.
[… pg. 264] After the war against the peasants, the
terror began to manifest differently during the 1930s and 1940s, changing in
intensity and form. The time of the Great Terror, from late 1936 to 1938,
brought more than 85 percent of all the death sentences handed down during the
entire Stalinist period. During these years the social origins of the victims
were often extremely mixed. Although many cadres were arrested and executed, the
terror claimed victims from all social backgrounds, many of whom were chosen
arbitrarily when quotas had to be filled. This blind and barbarous repression,
when the terror was at its height, seems to indicate that some obstacles were
simply insurmountable, and that liquidation was the only course the state could
find to impose its will.
[… pg. 267] To a significant degree, however,
reconstruction of the entire series of repressive procedures, of the chain of
command, and of the methods of implementation counteracts the theory of a
well-conceived, long-term plan. Looking at the planning of repressions, one can
see that chance played a huge role and that cracks appeared at all stages of the
operations. The deportation of the kulaks is a case in point. They were often
deported with no destination in mind, and their "abandonment in
deportation" is a clear indicator of the prevailing chaos. Likewise, the
"campaigns of emptying" the camps suggest a lack of planning. In the
transmission and execution of orders, troops often went too far too soon and
were guilty of "excessive zeal" or "deviation from the path"
at a grass-roots level.
The role of the gulags is
also extremely complex and seems to become more so as research progresses. In
contrast to the vision of a Stalinist order in which gulags were the hidden but
entirely representative face of the regime, documents now available suggest
contradictory interpretations. The successive arrival of repressed groups often
promoted disorganization rather than efficiency in the system. Despite an
extremely elaborate system of classification of the detainees, boundaries
between different categories were fragile and often illusory. Moreover, the
question of the system's economic profitability remains unanswered.
To contend with these
contradictions, improvisations, and illogicalities, several hypotheses have been
put forward to explain the frequent recourse to mass repression and the way in
which violence and terror seemed to create their own logic.
Historians have stressed
the role played by improvisation and the general lack of focus in directing
"the Great Moment" of modernization and the unleashing of the
Stalinist cycles of repression. Often the authorities would step up the
intensity of terror so that they could persuade themselves that they were in
control of volatile situations. They were quickly caught up in an extreme spiral
of violence that almost immediately became self-perpetuating. The scale of this
phenomenon escaped contemporary historians and is only now beginning to be
understood. The process of repression itself, seemingly the only possible
response to the conflicts and obstacles confronted by the authorities, generated
uncontrollable movements that fueled the terror.
The central place of
terror in the political and social history of the U.S.S.R. poses increasingly
complex questions today. Current research seems to negate many of the
conclusions previously drawn by Sovietologists. While historians still seek a
general and definitive explanation of the whole phenomenon, it is extremely
resistant to understanding. More progress is being made in understanding the
mechanisms and dynamics of the violence itself.
Many gray areas remain,
particularly regarding the everyday behavior of people reacting to the violence.
If one wishes to find out who the executioners actually were, then it is the
whole of society that must be questioned--all those who took part in the events,
not just the victims.
Excerpts from The Black Book of Communism; The
Comintern in Action by Stephane Courtois and Jean-Louis Panne.
[… pg. 273] At their first meeting the commissars
decided to establish revolutionary courts with judges chosen from among the
people. Lenin, whom Bela Kun had hailed as the leader of the world proletariat,
was in regular contact by telegram with Budapest after 22 March (218 messages
were exchanged), and he advised shooting the Social Democrats and
"petits-bourgeois." In his message to the Hungarian workers on 27 May
1919, he justified this recourse to terror: "The dictatorship of the
proletariat requires the use of swift, implacable, and resolute violence to
crush the resistance of exploiters, capitalists, great landowners, and their
minions. Anyone who does not understand this is not a revolutionary." Soon
the commissars of commerce, Matyas Rakosi, and of economic affairs, Eugen Varga,
and the head of the new courts had alienated all businessmen, industrial
employees, and lawyers. One proclamation posted on the walls summed up the mood
of the moment: "In the proletarian state, only the workers are allowed to
live!" Work became obligatory, and all businesses employing more than
twenty workers were immediately nationalized, followed by businesses employing
more than ten, and soon the rest as well.
[… pg. 280] In December 1948, at the Fifth Congress
of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Dimitrov accepted responsibility on behalf of
both himself and the military organization. According to other sources, the man
behind the dynamiting of the cathedral was Meir Trilisser, head of the Foreign
Section of the Cheka and later deputy head of the GPU, who was decorated in 1927
with the Order of the Red Flag for services rendered. In the 1930s Trilisser was
one of the ten secretaries of the Comintern assured permanent control of the
organization by the NKVD.
After this series of
failures in Europe the Comintern, at Stalin's instigation, turned its attention
to China. In a state of anarchy, torn apart by internal wars and social
conflicts, but at the same time experiencing a huge wave of nationalism, China
seemed ripe for an "anti-imperialist revolution." One sign of the
times was that in the autumn of 1925 the Chinese students at the Communist
University of the Workers of the East (KUTV), which had been established in
April 1921, were reorganized into the new Sun Yat-sen University.
Duly influenced by leaders
from the Comintern and the Soviet government, the Chinese Communist Party, which
was not yet under the leadership of Mao Zedong, was pushed in 1925-26 into a
close alliance with the Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang, led by the young
Chiang Kai-shek. The tactic chosen by the Communist Party was to place all hope
in the Kuomintang, using it as a sort of Trojan horse to smuggle in the
revolution. The Comintern emissary, Mikhail Borodin, arrived as an adviser to
the Kuomintang. In 1925 the left wing of the Nationalist Party, which favored
collaboration with the Soviet Union, took control of the party. The Communists
then stepped up their propaganda, encouraging social unrest and increasing their
influence until they gained control over the Kuomintang's Second Congress. But
an obstacle soon appeared in the person of Chiang Kai-shek, who was worried by
the continuing expansion of Communist influence. He feared, quite correctly,
that the Communists were attempting to sideline him. Seizing the initiative, he
proclaimed martial law on 12 March 1926, arresting all Communists in the
Kuomintang and the Soviet military advisers (although they were released a few
days later), silencing the leader of the party's left wing, and imposing an
eight-point plan whose purpose was to limit the prerogatives and activities of
Communists in the party. Chiang thus became the undisputed leader of the
Nationalist army. Borodin accepted the new situation.
[… pg. 288] Boris Suvarin (sometimes spelled
Souvarine), one of the leaders of the French Communist Party, took a stand
against the new line, denouncing the low tactics being used by Kamenev,
Zinoviev, and Stalin against their opponent Trotsky. On 12 June 1924 Suvarin was
summoned to the Thirteenth Congress of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union
and asked to explain himself. The meeting became acrimonious, in the manner of
meetings where full confessions were expected. A commission was hastily put
together to examine the "Suvarin case," and he was suspended from the
Party. The reaction of the other French Party leaders was a clear indication of
the prevailing mood. On 19 July an anonymous author wrote in L 'humanite:
"In our Party [the PCF], which the revolutionary battle has not yet
completely purified of its social-democratic remnants, individual personalities
still play too big a role. . . Only after petit-bourgeois individualism has been
destroyed once and for all will the anonymous iron cohorts of the French
Bolsheviks take shape. If we wish to be worthy of the Communist International to
which we belong and to follow in the steps of the glorious Russian Party, we
must mercilessly punish all those in our ranks who fail to comply with our
rules!" This line was to govern the PCF for many decades. The unionist
Pierre Monatte summed up the change in a single word: the
"corporalization" (turning everyone into little corporals) of the
[… pg. 295] The phenomena of terror and the public
trial inevitably met with different responses abroad. In Paris Boris Suvarin
made the following remarks in Le Figaro litteraire on 1 July 1937:
"It is a great exaggeration to claim that the Moscow trials are an
exclusively Russian phenomenon. While there are of course national
characteristics involved, one can also discern many other more general truths.
First, one should abandon the idea that what can be understood by Russians
cannot possibly be understood by the French. In fact the admissions that have
been made are as puzzling to the people of Russia as they are to the people of
France. Those who, out of some fanatical sense of devotion to the Bolshevik
cause, find it all quite natural are probably more numerous abroad than they are
in Russia. . . . In the early years of the Russian Revolution, it was easy to
put everything down to the idea of the Slavic soul; yet the events that
were reputed to be exclusively Slavic phenomena have subsequently been witnessed
in Italy and Germany. When the beast in man is unleashed, the same consequences
are visible everywhere, irrespective of whether the man in question is Latin,
German, or Slav, however different he may appear on the surface. And in any
case, in France and everywhere else there are millions of people who are in
Stalin's pocket. The editors of L humanite are identical with the men at Pravda
when it comes to flattery and sycophancy, and they don't have the excuse that a
totalitarian dictator is breathing down their necks. When an academician like
[Vladimir] Komarov demeans himself in Red Square yet again by asking for more
blood, one must bear in mind that if he had not done so, he would have been
effectively committing suicide. And with that in mind, what are we to make of
men like Romain Rolland, [Paul] Langevin, and [Andre] Malraux, who admire and
actively support the so-called Soviet regime with its culture and justice,
and who aren't forced to do so by hunger or torture?
[… pg. 301] Terror
within the Communist Parties
Once the Central Bureau of the Comintern had been purged, Stalin set about attacking the other sections. The German section was the first to suffer. In addition to the descendants of the Volga Germans, the German community in Soviet Russia included militants from the German Communist Party (KPD) and antifascist refugees and workers who had left the Weimar Republic to help build socialism in the Soviet Union. But none of these people were exempt when the arrests began in 1933. In all, two-thirds of the antifascists in exile in the U.S.S.R. were affected by the repression.
The fate of militant
German Communists is well documented thanks to the existence of lists of cadres,
Kaderlisten, which were drawn up under the KPD leaders Wilhelm Pieck, WiThelm
Florin, and Herbert Wehner and used to punish or expel Communists and victims of
repression. The earliest list dates from 3 September 1936, the last from 21 June
1938. A document from the late 1950s, drawn up by the control commission of the
SED (the Socialist Unity Party, the name taken by the German Communist Party
when it regrouped after World War II), lists some 1,136 people. Arrests reached
their peak in 1937, when 619 people were arrested, and continued until 1941,
when 21 were arrested. The fate of 666 of these people is unknown, although it
is almost certain that they died in prison. At least 82 were executed, 197 died
in prison camps, and 132 were handed over to the Nazis. Approximately 150
survived their long sentences and eventually managed to leave the U.S.S.R. One
of the ideological reasons invoked to justify the arrest of these militants was
that they had failed to stop Adolf Hitler's rise to power, as though Moscow
itself had played no role in the Nazi seizure of power.
The most tragic episode of
all, the occasion on which Stalin displayed the full extent of his cynicism, was
the handing over to Hitler of the German antifascists. This took place in 1937,
when the Soviet authorities began expelling Germans from the U.S.S.R. On 16
February ten were condemned and then handed over by the Soviet special services.
The names of some of them are well known: Emil Larisch, a technician who had
been living in the U.S.S.R. since 1921; Arthur Thilo, an engineer who had
arrived in 1931; Wilhelm Pfeiffer, a Communist from Hamburg; and Kurt Nixdorf, a
university employee at the Marx-Engels Institute.
[… pg 317] In
mid-September 1939 the division of Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet
Union, which had been secretly decided on 23 August 1939, came into force. The
two invaders coordinated their action to control the population, and the Gestapo
and the NKVD worked together. Out of a Jewish community of 3.3 million, 2
million fell into the German zone of occupation. After the persecutions,
massacres, and burning of synagogues came the establishment of the ghettoes,
first in Lodz on 30 April 1940, and then in Warsaw in October, before it was
closed on 15 November.
Many Polish Jews had fled
east before the advancing German army. In the winter of 1939-40 the Germans were
not overly worried about people fleeing over the border, but many of those who
did try their luck met an unexpected obstacle: "The Soviet Guards in the
'classless society' in their long fur coats, with their bayonets at the ready,
often greeted with police dogs and bursts of automatic gunfire the nomads who
had set out for the promised land." From December 1939 to March 1940 the
Jews found themselves trapped in a no-man's-land about a mile wide, on the west
bank of the Bug, and were forced to camp out under the stars. Most of them then
turned around and returned to the German zone.
[… pg. 319] In the winter of 1945-46 the physician
Jacques Pat, secretary of the Jewish Workers' Committee of the United States,
went to Poland to begin an inquiry into Nazi crimes. On his return he published
two articles in the Jewish Daily Forward on the fate of Jews who had fled to the
U.S.S.R. By his calculations, and on the basis of hundreds of interviews,
400,000 Polish Jews had died in deportation, in the camps, and in forced-labor
colonies. At the end of the war 150,000 chose to take back Polish citizenship so
that they could leave the U.S.S.R. "The 150,000 Jews who are today crossing
the Soviet-Polish border are no longer interested in talking about the Soviet
Union, the Socialist fatherland, dictatorship, or democracy. For them such
discussions are over, and their last word is this gesture of flight."
[… pg. 320] In the case of the Russians, the
conditions had often been atrocious, as Hitler considered that all Slavs were
subhuman and hence were to be disposed of en masse. Of the 5.7 million Russian
prisoners of war, 3.3 million died of hunger and the poor conditions.
It was thus very early on
that Stalin, in response to the Allies' preoccupation with the idea that there
were Russian soldiers in the Wehrmacht, decided to obtain permission to
repatriate all Russians who found themselves in the Western zone. This
permission was quickly granted. From the end of 1944 to January 1945 more than
332,000 Russian prisoners (including 1,179 from San Francisco) were transferred
the Soviet Union, often against their will. This transaction seemed to pose no
crisis of conscience among British and American diplomats, who were fairly
cynical about the whole affair, since, like Anthony Eden, they were aware that
this was a question that had to be settled by the use of force.
At the Yalta conference
(5-12 February 1945) the three Allied powers-- Soviet, British, and
American--drew up secret agreements that covered soldiers as well as displaced
civilians. Churchill and Eden accepted the idea that it was up to Stalin to
decide the fate of prisoners who had fought in the Russian Liberation Army
commanded by General Andrei Vlasov, as though he had offered some sort of
guarantee that they would be well treated.
Stalin knew very well that
some of the Soviet soldiers had been taken prisoner principally because of the
disorganization of the Red Army, for which he had been mainly to blame, and
thanks to the widespread military incompetence of the generals, of which he
himself was one. We can also be sure that many of the soldiers simply had no
desire to fight for a regime that they hated, and, in Lenin's expression, they
had probably "voted with their feet."
Once the Yalta accords had
been signed, convoys left Britain weekly for the US.S.R. From May to July 1945
more than 1.3 million people who had been living in the Western occupied zones,
and who were considered Russian by the British, including people from the
Baltics, which had been annexed in 1940, and Ukrainians, were repatriated. By
the end of August more than 2 million of these "Russians" had been
handed over. Sometimes they were kept in terrible conditions. Individual and
collective suicides involving whole families were frequent, as was mutilation.
Often, when the prisoners were handed over to the Soviet authorities, they tried
to put up passive resistance, but the Anglo-Americans did not hesitate to use
force to satisfy Moscow's requirements. When the prisoners arrived in the
U.S.S.R., they were placed under police control. The day the ship Almanzora
arrived in Odessa, on 18 April, summary executions took place. This was also the
case when the Empire Pride arrived in port in the Black Sea.
The West feared that the
Soviet Union might hold French, British, or American prisoners as hostages and
use them as a sort of currency in exchange--an attitude very indicative of their
view of the Soviet diktats demanding the repatriation of all Russians, even
those who had fled the revolution after 1917. This conscious policy of the
Western allies did not in fact facilitate the return of their own citizens, but
it did allow the Soviet Union to send out a veritable army of officials to hunt
down people attempting to resist these laws. The officials themselves often
acted with supreme disregard for local laws.
In the French zone of
occupation, the Bulletin of the military administration in Germany affirmed that
on 1 October 1945, 101,000 "displaced persons" had been sent back to
the Soviet Union. Even in France itself, the authorities accepted the creation
of seventy transit camps that were somehow exempt from French law. One of these,
Beauregard, was in the Paris suburbs. France had no control over what happened
in such camps, which were operated by the NKVD with impunity on French soil.
These operations, which started as early as September 1944 with the help of
Communist propaganda, had been carefully planned by the Soviet Union. The
Beauregard camp was not closed until November 1947 by the French security
forces, after a scandal concerning the abduction of children of divorced parents
who were feuding. The closure came at the behest of Roger Wybot, who noted that
"this camp, according to the information I have in my possession, was less
a transit camp than a sort of sequestration center." Protests against such
policies were few, and took place too late to be of any use. One did appear in
the summer of 1947, in the Socialist review Masses: "One can easily imagine
Genghis Khan, at the height of his powers, closing his frontiers to prevent his
slaves from running away. But it is hard to imagine that he would be granted the
right to extradite them from abroad. . . This is a true sign of our postwar
moral decay. . . What moral or political code can possibly be used to oblige
people to go and live in a country where they will live and work as slaves? What
gratitude does the world expect from Stalin for turning a deaf ear to the cries
of all the Russian citizens who have taken their own lives rather than return
The editors of Masses went
on to denounce the recent expulsions: "Spurred on by the criminal
indifference of the masses regarding violations of the right to asylum, the
British military authorities in Italy have just been accessories to a heinous
crime: on 8 May, 175 Russians were taken from Camp 7 in Ruccione, and another 10
people from Camp 6 (where whole families are being kept), allegedly to be sent
to Scotland. When these 185 people were somewhat distant from the camp, all
objects that could possibly have been of assistance to them, had they wanted to
take their own lives, were removed from their possession, and they were informed
that their real destination was not in fact Scotland, but Russia. Despite the
precautions, some of them still managed to kill themselves. That same day
another 80 people, all of Caucasian origin, were taken from the camp in Pisa.
All were taken to the Russian zone in Austria, in railway carriages guarded by
British troops. Some of them tried to escape and were shot by the guards."
The repatriated prisoners
were interned in special camps called "filtration and control camps"
(established in late 1941), which were scarcely different from the forced-labor
camps, and which became officially a part of the Gulag Administration in January
1946. In 1945, 214,000 prisoners passed through them. These prisoners, sent into
the Gulag at its height, generally received six-year sentences, in accordance
with section 1(b) of Article 58. Among them were the former members of the
Russian Liberation Army, who had participated in the liberation of Prague, where
they had fought against the SS.
[… pg. 322] Enemy
The Soviet Union had not ratified the 1929 Geneva Convention on prisoners of war. Theoretically, all prisoners were protected by the convention even if their country was not a signatory, but the Soviet government took little account of this. In victory, it still kept between 3 million and 4 million German prisoners. Among them were soldiers freed by the Western forces who had come back to the Soviet zone and been deported farther east to the U.S.S.R.
In March 1947 Vyacheslav
Molotov declared that a million Germans had been repatriated (1,003,974 was the
exact number) and that there were still 890,532 interned in various camps. The
figures proved some controversy. In March 1950 the Soviet Union declared that
the repatriation process was complete, but humanitarian organizations claimed
that at least 300,000 prisoners of war and 100,000 expatriate civilians remained
in the U.S.S.R. On 8 May 1950 Luxembourg protested the ending of repatriation
operations, in part because at least 2,000 Luxembourg nationals were still
trapped in the Soviet Union. Was the holding back of information the cover for a
more sinister fate? This seems quite likely, given the atrocious conditions in
One estimate made by a
special commission (the Maschke commission) claimed that nearly 1 million German
prisoners of war died in Soviet camps. A typical case involved the 100,000
German prisoners taken by the Red Army at Stalingrad, of whom only 6,000
survived. In addition to the Germans, there were still around 60,000 Italian
survivors in February 1947 (the figure of 80,000 has also often been put forward
in this context). The Italian government claimed that only 12,513 of those
soldiers had returned to Italy at that date. Romanian and Hungarian soldiers
found themselves in the same position after. . . .
[… pg. 328] The offensive was contained, and in
talks held in Varkiza the Communists resigned themselves to a peace accord under
which they agreed to disarm. The accord was something of a sham, however, since
large numbers of weapons and munitions remained carefully hidden. Ares
Velouchiotes, one of the principal warlords, rejected the Varkiza conditions,
rejoined the partisans with about one hundred men, and then crossed into Albania
in the hope of continuing the armed struggle from there. Later, asked about the
reasons for the defeat of the EAM-ELAS, Velouchiotes replied frankly: "We
didn't kill enough people. The English were taking a major interest in that
crossroads called Greece. If we had killed all their friends, they wouldn't have
been able to land. Everyone described me as a killer--that's the way we were.
Revolutions succeed only when rivers run red with blood, and blood has to be
spilled if what you are aiming for is the perfectability of the human
race." Velouchiotes died in combat in June 1945 in Thessaly, a few days
after he was thrown out of the KKE. The defeat of the EAM-ELAS unleashed a wave
of hatred against the Communists and their allies. Groups of militants were
assassinated by paramilitary groups, and many others were imprisoned. Most of
the leaders were deported to the islands.
Excerpts from The Black Book of Communism; Central
and Southeastern Europe by Karel Bartosek.
[… pg. 394] In Central Europe, one must always think of terror in relation to the war, which was its most extreme expression in the first half of this century. World War II, which began in this region, far surpassed General Ludendorff's "total war." What Miguel Abensour described as the "democratization of death" thereafter affected tens of millions of people as total annihilation became an integral part of the idea of war. Nazi barbarism struck the entire population, particularly with the extermination of the Jews. The figures themselves are eloquent: in Poland, military losses accounted for 320,000 dead, while civilian losses were 5.5 million; in Hungary, there were 140,000 military losses and more than 300,000 civilian deaths; in Czechoslovakia, civilian losses were 80-90 percent of the total.
But the great terror of
the war did not come to an end with the German defeat. With the arrival of the
Red Army, the fighting arm of the Communist regime, populations underwent
"national cleansing," which had a quite specific character in this
region. Political commissars and counterintelligence units in this army, under
SMERSH and the NKVD, were deeply involved in such operations. The repression was
especially severe in the countries that had sent troops to fight against the
Soviet Union--Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia-- where the NKVD deported hundreds
of thousands to the Soviet gulags. Their exact number is still being calculated.
According to new studies
in Hungary and Russia published since the opening of the archives--studies that
are quite conservative regarding the exact figures--hundreds of thousands of
people were deported: soldiers and civilians, children as young as thirteen, and
old men of eighty. Approximately 40,000 were taken to the Transcarpathian region
of Ukraine, which had belonged to Czechoslovakia but was occupied, by Hungary in
1939 in accordance with the 1938 Munich agreement and then annexed by the Soviet
Union in 1944. From Hungary, which had a population of about 9 million in 1944,
more than 600,000 people were deported (the Soviet figure of 526,604 is based on
the number of people who arrived at the camps; it does not take into account
those who died in transit camps in Romania). There were camps in Brasov,
Timisoara, Sighet, Marmatiel, Moldavia, Bessarabia, and Sambor; around 75
percent of all deportees passed through these. Among the deportees were Jews who
had been engaged in the work battalions of the Hungarian army. Two-thirds of
these prisoners were sent to forced-labor camps and one-third to prison camps,
where the mortality rate, as a result of epidemics, was twice as high. Current
estimates suggest that around 200,000 of these deportees from Hungary--including
people belonging to the German minority, Russians who had arrived after 1920,
and French and Poles who were living in Hungary-- never returned.
Some of these purges were
carried out by "popular" or "extraordinary" courts. At the
end of the war, and in the first months of the postwar period, violent
extrajudicial action was common, including executions, assassinations, torture,
and the taking of hostages. This was facilitated by the absence of, or the
failure to respect, international conventions regarding prisoners of war or the
civilian population. Bulgaria, which had a population of 7 million at the time,
was particularly noteworthy in this respect. Immediately after 9 September 1944,
when the Popular Patriotic Front seized power and the Red Army marched into the
country, a police force and a security department controlled by the Communist
Party moved into action. On 6 October "people's tribunals" were
established by decree. By March 1945 they had issued 10,897 sentences in 131
trials and condemned 2,138 people to death, including the regents, the brother
of King Boris III, high-ranking officers, policemen, judges, industrialists, and
journalists. According to specialists, a savage purge accounted for the death or
disappearance of another 30,000 to 40,000 people, mainly the local nobility,
mayors, teachers, Orthodox priests, and shopkeepers. In 1989, thanks to
witnesses who were no longer afraid to talk, previously unknown mass graves were
uncovered. Yet Bulgaria had never sent troops to fight the Soviet Union and had
saved most of its Jews from genocide. To get an idea of the scale of Communist
repression in the country, one can compare the number of victims from the period
of monarchic rule in 1923-1944, often thought of as dictatorial.
[… pg. 396] At this time, after the "liberation
by the Red Army," which, according to the official propaganda, established
international relations of a "new type," many people tried to change
their affiliations, and denunciations flew thick and fast. Name changes were
common; Rosenzweigs often quickly became Rozanskis, and Breitenfelds became
The terror in Central and
Southeastern Europe did not stop with this. The armed struggle against the new
authorities continued in Poland, prolonging the war, and also affected Slovakia
in 1947, when the Bandera units fleeing from Ukraine arrived. At the same time,
armed groups of former members of the fascist Iron Guard, calling themselves the
"Black Shawls," roamed the Carpathian Mountains. Central Europe was
still prey to virulent antisemitism. The last pogroms or attempted pogroms in
European history took place in 1946 in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
[… pg. 397] Rarely in the course of history had the
arrival of a new regime been preceded by a bloodbath on the scale of the one
seen in Yugoslavia, where out of a population of 15.5 million, 1 million people
died. A series of ethnic, religious, ideological, and civil wars tore the
country apart, . . .
[… pg. 416] The same pattern was common in other
countries, although the peasants were sometimes the main victims of repression.
This influx of ordinary people into the prisons was tied to the expansion of the
camps and the creation of a concentration-camp system, which was perhaps the
most remarkable feature of the barbarism of the Communist regimes. The prisons
were never large enough to receive a mass of prisoners, and governments again
followed the lead of the Soviet Union and created their own gulag archipelago.
Both Bolshevism and Nazism
enriched the history of repression in the twentieth century by establishing camp
systems in times of peace. As Annette Wieviorka pointed out in a special issue
on camps in the journal Vingtieme siecle in 1997, before the invention of
the Gulag and the Lagers (the gulags came first), prison camps had been a
wartime means of repression and exclusion. During World War II the
concentration-camp system arose in continental Europe, and camps, Lagers, and
gulags were to be found from the Urals to the foothills of the Pyrenees. But
their history did not end with the defeat of Germany and its allies.
During the war the fascist
and dictatorial regimes allied with Germany had incorporated the camp into the
culture of their countries. In Bulgaria the conservative government had
established an internment camp on the small island of Saint Anastasia in the
Black Sea, near Burgas, and then built the camps of Gonda Voda and Belo Pole,
where political opponents were interned, In 1941-1944 the populists in power in
Slovakia had built fifteen "penitential work establishments" near
civil-engineering projects that lacked manpower, and sent there "asocial
elements," which generally meant Romany Gypsies. In Romania camps had been
created for political prisoners by the dictatorial regime of Marshal Ion
Antonescu, most notably the Tirgiu Jiu camp, in the territory between the
Dniester and the Bug, which was used for racial repression.
Thus, when the war ended
there were already well-established camps that could serve as transit points for
the new deportees (as in the case of Hungary) or as internment camps for people
suspected of having collaborated with the Nazis. This was the new function of
Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen, infamous concentration camps under the Nazis that
lay in the Soviet-occupied zone of East Germany.
After 1945 new types of
camps sprang up, to which governments sent their political adversaries. The
camps may have been established first in Bulgaria, where a 1945 decree allowed
the police to establish camps to educate people through work, known as
labor-educational communes. Hundreds of people, including dozens of anarchists,
were sent to the Kutsian camp, near the mining center in Pernik, which at the
time was already known as "the kiss of death," and to Bobov Dol and
Bogdanov Dol, known to its inmates as "the camp of shadows." After
receiving detailed information about these sites in March 1949, French
anarchists denounced them publicly as "Bolshevik concentration camps."
archipelago" came to Central and Southeastern Europe in 1949-50. Unlike the
case of the Nazi camps, there is no mass of studies and eyewitness testimony to
provide a picture of these camps. Nevertheless, we must attempt at least a
sketch, both to deepen our understanding of the nature of the Communist regimes
and to do justice to the memory of the victims who lost their lives in this part
An analysis of the Soviet
system leads to the conclusion that the main purpose of the camps was economic.
Obviously, the system was meant to isolate and punish certain segments of
society. But the geographic distribution of the camps makes it clear that they
were situated primarily where the authorities most needed disciplined,
plentiful, and cheap manpower. These modern slaves may not have built pyramids,
but they did build canals, dams, factories, and buildings in honor of the new
pharaohs. They also worked in coal, anthracite, and uranium mines. Could it be
that the choice of prisoners and the extent and rhythm of repression were all
influenced by the needs of the construction sites and the mines?
In Hungary and Poland the
camps were systematically located near mining areas. In Romania the vast
majority of the camps were set up along the route of the Danube-Black Sea canal
and in the delta of the Danube. The biggest and most important group of camps
was known as the Poarta Alba, where names like Cernavoda, Medgidia, Valea
Neagra, and Basarabi were engraved in people's memories, together with places in
the Danube delta (Periprava, Chilia Veche, Stoenesti, Tataru). The Danube-Black
Sea canal soon became known as "the canal of death." This was indeed a
terrible place, where thousands of peasants who had opposed collectivization
were sent, along with other "suspect individuals."
[… pg. 418] After the
war Imre Nyeste, a Hungarian resistance fighter in charge of a youth
organization, had refused to join the Communist Party. After his trial he was
sentenced to a labor camp, where he stayed until 1956. Inmates there broke
stones for twelve hours a day in winter and sixteen hours a day in summer. But
worst of all for him was the hunger: "The difference between the Communist
secret police and the Nazis--I am one of the happy few who have experience of
both--isn't a question of their respective levels of brutality and cruelty. The
torture chamber in a Nazi jail is the same as one in a Communist jail. The
difference is elsewhere. If the Nazis arrested you as a political dissident, in
general what they wanted to know was what your activities were, who your friends
were, what your intentions were, etc. The Communists never bothered with all
that. They already knew when they arrested you what sort of confession you were
going to sign. But you yourself did not. I had no idea that I was going to
become an American spy!"
[… pg. 434] A second hypothesis, which it seems
important to advance here, concerns the widespread antisemitism in the
repression of the Communists. Analyses of the trials regularly mention "the
struggle against Zionism and the Zionists," and there is no doubt that this
aspect was linked to changes in Soviet policy regarding Israel and the Arab
world. The new state of Israel, to whose birth Czechoslovakia in particular had
greatly contributed (supplying arms to the Haganah), became the Great Enemy, and
Soviet policy realigned itself behind the Arab struggle for national liberation.
Nicolas Werth (see Part I)
has already pointed out the antisemitic elements in the repressions in the
Soviet Union after December 1947 and in the preparation for the "great
final purge" of the 1950s. In Central Europe, antisemitism was quite
apparent in the Rajk trial, when the judge stressed the Jewish origins of the
names of four of the accused, including Rajk. This antisemitism reached its
height in the Slansky trial, which stressed the Jewish origins of eleven of the
accused and their alleged links with international Zionism.
To appreciate the extent
of this latent antisemitism, one need only read one of the reports from a Moscow
adviser already cited above, Comrade Likhachev, who had asked for information
about the subversive activities of certain Slovak leaders. According to a
statement by his Slovak interlocutor, Likhachev declared: "I don't care
where this information comes from. I don't even care if it's true or not. I'm
ready to believe it, and let me do the rest. Why worry about these Jewish shits
There is another, unknown
side to this intractable antisemitism. It would appear that Stalin and his
followers wanted to settle scores with all the Jews in the International,
definitively eliminating them. These Jewish Communists did not practice their
religion; they seem to have identified with the nation to which they belonged or
with the international Communist community. We have no sources to indicate how
they thought their identity had been affected by the Holocaust. But, of course,
many of their relatives had died in Nazi death camps.
After the war there were
still many Jewish Communists occupying key posts in parties and organizations in
Central Europe. In a comprehensive survey of Hungarian Communism, Miklos Molnar
writes: "At the very top of the hierarchy, almost without exception, the
leaders were of Jewish origin, as they were in a slightly lower proportion in
the Central Committee, the secret police, the press and publishing houses, and
the theater and cinema . . . Although a policy was in place to promote young
workers to positions of influence, the fact remains that for the most part power
was wielded by the Jewish petite bourgeoisie." In January 1953 Gabor Peter,
the chief of the Hungarian secret police and an old friend of Rajk, found
himself in prison as a Zionist conspirator. An official speech by Rakosi, who
was himself a Jewish Communist, stigmatized "Peter and his gang" and
turned him into a scapegoat.
In Romania, the fate of
Jewish Comintern worker Ana Pauker was settled in 1952. She had been a member of
the ruling "troika," together with Gheorghiu-Dej, the Party leader,
and Vasile Luca. According to a statement that cannot be confirmed from other
sources, at a meeting with Gheorghiu-Dej in 1951 Stalin expressed surprise that
agents of Titoism and Zionism had not yet been arrested in Romania, and demanded
immediate action. As a result Vasile Luca, the minister of finance, was
dismissed in May 1952 along with Teohari Gheorghescu, the minister of interior,
and sentenced to death. Luca's sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment,
and he died in prison. Ana Pauker, the minister of foreign affairs, was sacked
in early July, arrested in February 1953, and freed in 1954, returning to family
life. The antisemitic repression moved on to smaller targets.
Events that took place
around this time in Moscow, such as the complete reorganization of the security
services and the arrest of the chief of the secret police, Viktor Abakumov, in
July 1951, permit yet a third hypothesis: infighting within the Soviet security
services may have been decisive in the choice of victims who collaborated with
the services and in the sentences they were given. Karel Kaplan has recently
pointed out that "it remains an open question whether the liquidation of a
group of people who cooperated with the Soviet security services and their
replacement by others (Karol Bacliek, A. Keppert, and others) originated in the
conflicts and changes in the central security apparatus in Moscow."
[… pg. 450] The Complex
Management of the Past
Is it possible to forget, or to make people forget, the suffering brought on by a system and its jackbooted agents, when the suffering lasted for decades? Can one be generous and indulgent toward those who have been defeated, when they are executioners or torturers? When one wishes to set up democracy and the rule of law, what can be done with previous leaders and their assistants, particularly when they were so numerous and the state apparatus was so vast?
The new democracies in
Central and Southeastern Europe have sought answers to these questions. The
cleansing of the Communist apparatus was the order of the day, even if this
meant dredging up extremely unpleasant memories. Not surprisingly, the new
leaders, who include many former Communists, are divided in their views about
how extensive this cleansing should be and the methods it should involve. There
have been calls for radical measures--for the banning of Communist parties as
criminal organizations, and for trials of all former leaders who are still
alive. On the other hand, there is an overwhelming desire to avoid a purge
reminiscent of old Communist practices. For the Polish prime minister Tadeusz
Mazowiecki or for the president of the Czech and Slovak republics, Vaclav Havel,
denouncing the crimes of the previous regime and removing its agents from
positions of authority could not mean a return to the methods of the previous
regime. These anti-Communist democrats did not want to govern in an atmosphere
of fear. Gyorgy Dabs, a Hungarian writer and a longtime opponent of the
authoritarian regime, wrote in 1990 that "purification and cleansing, even
if one hides behind terms like 'spring cleaning,' can still create a deep-seated
feeling of insecurity among those who worked under the old regime, whom we still
need very much . . . It would be very serious if fear gave rise to a new
'loyalty,' which frankly would have very little to do with the idea of democracy
In the first days after
freedom had been restored, victims of the Communist regimes, concretely
identified, living or dead, silent or vocal, were at the center of
investigations of responsibility. Victims of all different types were in the
spotlight, from people who had been unjustly executed or imprisoned to people
whose livelihoods had been taken away, to people who had been humiliated on a
daily basis by their submission to the lies of the Party. Post-Communist society
had to face up to what Vaclav Havel termed this "monstrous heritage,"
and to face as well the grave issues of crime and punishment. In seeing the
victim as the main witness to suffering, societies necessarily appealed to their
new political officials, to provide a framework that would either exploit or
calm the resentment produced by this suffering. There were some who exploited
the situation for personal gain, and those who wanted to prevent the rise of
blind vengeance, those who simply watched, and those who were conscious of human
frailty and sought the true causes of the evil, while proposing democratic
measures. A "silent majority" had existed in all the Communist
regimes; and ironically, those who had remained most passive, becoming
semi-collaborators, ended up calling most loudly for brutal revenge on the
It is hardly surprising
that after so many years of amputated memories, the interpretation of the recent
past was so impassioned. Naturally, there was an explosion in publishing after
the abolition of censorship, as a multiplicity of viewpoints began to emerge.
The journalistic, highly media-focused approach, with its constant hunt for
sensationalism, led to oversimplification, a black-and- white view in which
history was reduced to victims versus executioners, until suddenly it seemed
possible to believe that a whole nation had been resistance fighters against a
regime imposed from abroad. In the process, words lost their finer meanings. The
term "genocide" was bandied about: the Communists had perpetrated
genocide on the Romanians, the Czechs, and others; the Czechs had tried to
launch genocide against the Slovaks. In Romania, people began talking about a
"Red holocaust"; and in Bulgaria the formula "innumerable
Auschwitzes lacking only crematoria" became the standard way of referring
to the gulags.
These approaches to the
recent past have already been the object of dispassionate studies, which
demonstrate clearly how strongly the effects of World War II persist in
post-Communist societies. The extreme case is that of the former Yugoslavia,
where the recent war was, in part, an extension of the conflicts generated fifty
years before, and where memories were flagrantly manipulated to fuel the
conflict. The shadows of the war have not dissipated, particularly among the
former allies of Nazi Germany. If Marshal Petain had been Romanian or Slovak,
many would have claimed him as a victim of Communism, as was the case with the
Romanian dictator Antonescu and the Slovak president Monsignor Jozef Tiso, both
of whom were sentenced to death and executed after the war for the atrocities
committed within their countries.
The history of Communist
regimes is now extremely politicized, especially when parties and movements seek
to rediscover their ancestors and traditions. The Pole Andrzej Paczkowski, one
of the authors of this book, speaks unhesitatingly about a "civil war"
in Poland over the search for origins, although happily this war is merely one
of words. The past is manipulated and used as a tool as ancient myths and
legends are reborn and new ones appear. The myth of the number of victims is one
that commands special attention. According to the French historian Robert Frank,
the figure becomes a key symbol, a mathematical truth; it lends authority to
discourses about death, and it transforms mass deaths into a kind of sacrament.
Hence the special need for prudence among those researching new national or
The Hungarian Gyorgy
Litvan, director of the Institute for the History of the Hungarian Revolution of
1956, has suggested that a politically aware interpretation of extreme points in
history facilitates in-depth analysis of the political evolution of a country.
He claims that a country's relation to the recent past can tell us much more
about the democratic roots of certain types of discourse than it can about
economic problems or other changes that might be under way at the time.
All memories are
"created" to some extent, and the official version of events is no
exception. Panels of legislators and decision makers select the traditions that
will underlie new constitutions, choose the figures whose heads will appear on
stamps and banknotes, determine the national holidays to be celebrated, the
medals to be handed out, the events to be commemorated, and the names to be
given to streets, squares, and public places--and, of course, draw up the
curriculum to be taught in schools. The heroes and victims of the Communist
period cannot be forgotten. Nevertheless, many post-Communist regimes have
decided to put the Communist period in their history in brackets. This is hardly
new in the twentieth century, as the Italian historian Maria Ferretti, who
specializes in Russian memory, has pointed out: Benedetto Croce proposed a
similar approach in order to bury the ghost of Italian fascism. Bracketing,
however, is always an illusion, and whole decades cannot simply be buried and
forgotten. These decades have molded the outlook of the vast majority of the
citizens in each country, and they have also determined the course of social and
economic development. Dispassionate analyses attempt to propose explanations of
behavior, including the absence (or inadequacy) of historical self-criticism
among individuals, groups, and whole peoples; the desire to avoid any reflection
about collective responsibility (in the form of tacit support for the regime);
or the presence of a "martyred people" mentality that excuses an
entire nation for everything. (Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine has studied the idea
of "collective martyrology" in Romania, which is accompanied by an
"innocence complex" that causes everything to be seen as someone
Control over the past in
post-Communist states is a topic sufficiently complex to merit a book-length
study in its own right. Most notable at this point are the differences among the
countries concerned. In Romania in particular, men from the old Communist regime
kept power until the legislative and presidential elections of November 1996,
and a similar situation existed for some time in Bulgaria as well. But even in
those two countries, considerable documentation about repression under the
Communists is now available. Yet although citizens in all the countries have in
their own possession considerable documentation pertaining to the years of
Communist rule, and although victim testimonies are now commonplace, in-depth
histories based on a close scrutiny of archival sources are still lacking,
except perhaps in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.
It should also be pointed
out that no Communist Party has yet been banned. These parties have changed
their names except in the Czech Republic, where a referendum inside the Party
resulted in a decision to keep the name unchanged. Almost everywhere, the most
compromised leaders have been thrown out and the leadership entirely replaced.
Few trials of people
responsible for the repressions have taken place. The most spectacular one
occurred in Romania, where a pseudo-trial ended in the execution of Nicolae
Ceausescu and his wife on 25 December 1989, after which the dictator's body was
shown on national television. In Bulgaria, Todor Zhivko, the former general
secretary of the Party, was tried in April 1991 but allowed to go free.
Paradoxically he most visibly failed to live up to one of the mottoes of the
Bulgarian Party elite: "We took power with bloodshed, we won't give it up
without bloodshed." In Albania, some of the Communist leaders were
sentenced for "abuse of public goods and infringing the equality of
citizens"; one such person was the wife of Enver Hoxha, who received an
eleven-year prison sentence. In Czechoslovakia, Miroslav Stepan, a member of the
Party Presidium and first secretary of the Prague municipal Party committee, was
sentenced to two years in prison in 1991 for violence carried out against a
crowd of demonstrators on 17 November 1989. Several trials have been brought
against the former leaders of East Germany. The most recent was the trial of the
last Communist leader, Egon Krenz, in August 1997. He was sentenced to six and a
half years in prison and freed pending an appeal. As of 1999 charges were still
being pressed against General Wojciech Jaruzeiski for the deaths of strikers in
Gdansk in December 1970, when as defense minister he relayed the orders to open
fire. (Jaruzelski was granted a pardon by the Polish parliament in 1996 on
separate charges brought against him for his role in imposing martial law in
December 1981.) Similarly, an effort is still under way in Prague to try a few
of the Czechoslovak Communist leaders who "invited" in the occupying
forces in 1968.
Post-Communist justice has
also involved several trials of officials from the various security services
directly implicated in crimes. One of the most interesting was the trial in
Poland of Adam Humer and eleven other officers from the UB for crimes committed
during the repression of the opposition in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Humer
was a colonel at the time, and the deputy head of the Investigations Department
of the Ministry of Public Security until 1954. These crimes are generally
described as crimes against humanity. At the end of the trial, which lasted two
and a half years, Humer was sentenced on 8 March 1996 to nine years'
imprisonment. In Hungary, those who shot at civilians on 8 December 1956 in
Salgotarjan, an industrial town northeast of Budapest, were convicted in January
1995 of crimes against humanity. But the verdict reached in January 1997 by the
Hungarian Supreme Court decreed that after 4 November 1956, because of the
illegal intervention of Soviet forces, a state of war existed between Hungary
and the U.S.S.R., and therefore these crimes had to be considered war crimes
Of all the countries of
the former Soviet bloc, the Czech Republic has developed perhaps the most
original approach to the management of the country's Communist past. It is the
only country to have adopted laws mandating the return of goods confiscated by
the authorities after 25 February 1948, and decreeing the mass rehabilitation of
all those unjustly convicted. In 1994, for example, regional and district courts
rehabilitated approximately 220,000 people. Until 1998, when Poland adopted a
law requiring the screening of all judicial and police officials, the Czech
Republic was alone in having passed a law on "lustration," limiting
access to public office. The law requires verification of and open access to any
senior official's past as it appears in the police records of the old regime. It
is also the only country that has a special administrative body, the Bureau for
Documentation and Inquiry into the Crimes of Communism, to pursue members of the
old regime. As an integral part of the Investigations Bureau of the Police of
the Czech Republic, this body has full powers to gather information and file
charges for any Communist crime committed from 1948 to 1989. The Bureau for
Documentation has a staff of about 90. It intervenes with legal opinions in
judicial procedures; it has to make the case for each crime, assemble the
necessary evidence, and then submit the case to the department for public
prosecutions. Of the 98 people investigated in 1997, 20 cases were deemed valid,
5 were actually taken to court, and a single person--a former investigator in
the State Security organs--was sentenced to five years in prison. All cases are
to be concluded by 29 December 1999.
The current director of
the Bureau of Documentation, Vaclav Benda, a mathematician by training and an
important figure in the opposition during the 1970s and 1980s, himself spent
four years in prison. Today he is a Christian Democratic senator, and in a
recent interview he made clear his position regarding Communist crimes and
crimes against humanity: "The waiver of the statute of limitations for
crimes against humanity does exist in our legislation, but we are not sure what
Communist crimes it can be applied to. We can't automatically define all the
crimes of Communism as crimes against humanity. Besides, our international
position on the elimination of the statute of limitations was taken by
Czechoslovakia in 1974, and legal opinions differ as to whether we can consider
that crimes committed before that date fall within the remit of the waiver of
the statute of limitations."
Pavel Rychetsky, who was
deputy prime minister of the federal government in 1991 and 1992, is now a
Social Democratic senator and chairman of the Legislative Commission of the
Czech Senate. In June 1997 he told us: "In the Czech Republic, everyone
believes that we do need trials, not simply to punish the old men, but to bring
everything that happened out into the open, as a sort of catharsis. In fact most
of the information is out in the open already, and it's hard to believe we will
find out anything that is worse than the things we already know. Genocide, as a
crime against humanity, is of course without a statute of limitations. But none
of the Communist crimes in Czechoslovakia fell under that category, and we will
never be able to prove that any actions corresponding to a really close
definition of genocide were ever carried out. By contrast, in the Soviet Union
there were certainly crimes of genocide committed against ethnic groups or
specific segments of the population, such as the Cossacks and the Chechens. But
those crimes can't really be punished either, because they were not explicitly
against any law that was in force at that time."
These examples, of which
many more could be found, lead inexorably to the conclusion that numerous crimes
have gone unpunished, because of the statute of limitations, lack of witnesses,
or lack of proof. After the fall of Communism, justice has once again become
independent of executive power, and it has ensured that the principles of
so-called civilized countries are respected, including both the principle of the
statute of limitations and the idea that no law can have retroactive effects.
However, some countries have amended their legislation to allow the prosecution
of certain crimes. In Poland, the law of 4 April 1991 replaced the law of April
1984 on the Principal Commission for Research into the Crimes of Hitler and the
Institute for National Memory. The new law places Communism in the same category
as fascism and introduces the concept of Stalinist crimes, which it defines as
"any attacks on individuals or groups of people committed by the Communist
authorities or inspired or tolerated by them during the period preceding 31
December 1956." Such crimes are not subject to a statute of limitations. In
1995, the articles in the penal code regarding the statute of limitations were
modified, allowing the most serious crimes committed against civil liberties
before 31 December 1989 to be prosecuted within a thirty-year period starting on
1 January 1990. In the Czech Republic, the law regarding the "illegitimacy
of the Communist regime and resistance to it," adopted in 1993, extended
the statute of limitations for crimes committed between 1948 and 1989 that could
be described as "political."
Dealing with the past is
an extremely complex business. But I would like to finish this section on a
personal note. In my opinion, the punishment of the guilty was not carried out
promptly enough or in an appropriate manner. Despite the efforts of many, myself
included, Czechoslovakia, for instance, has failed to introduce any new
categories of crime such as "national indignity," which could be
punishable by "national degradation" and the removal of rights, as was
done in France in the aftermath of World War II. On the other hand, the Germans'
opening of the Stasi archives to any interested citizen seems a brave and good
decision. It increases a sense of responsibility, inviting everyone to take
charge of his or her own "trial": your husband was an informer, and
now you know. . . what are you going to do? Whatever happens, the wounds will
take some time to heal.
An Eye For An Eye: The Story of Jews Who Sought Revenge For the Holocaust, by John Sack, 1993 & 2000.
-010--I'd come to Auschwitz and this part of Poland to research this book. I had heard of a Jewish girl, Lola, who, after one-and-one-half years at Auschwitz, had turned the Holocaust upside-down by becoming the commandant of the big prison for Germans at Gleiwitz, thirty miles away, and in some ways by imitating the SS women at Auschwitz, and I wanted to write about her. Lola wasn't in Poland anymore, but as I spoke to Jews, Poles and Germans about her and as I studied documents in a cobwebbed cellar in Poland and a concrete castle over the Rhine, I slowly became aware that the truth was much, much larger than Lola. I learned that hundreds of Jews and probably thousands of Jews who'd been on the platform at Auschwitz (or the numerous places like it) in the early 1940s could picture things that I couldn't and, in fact, could do things that in the 1930s they couldn't even have pictured. When the Holocaust ended, I learned, a lot of Jews became commandants like Lola. I understood why, but the Jews were sometimes as cruel as their exemplars at Auschwitz, and they even ran the organization that, ran the prisons and - as I learned - the concentration camps for German civilians in Poland and Poland-administered Germany. Once again, I felt that I was confronting something too big for one little three-pound brain, for I was learning that, yes, the Holocaust happened, the Germans killed Jews, but that a second atrocity happened that the Jews who committed it covered up: one where the Jews killed Germans. God knows the Jews were provoked, but I learned that in 1945 they killed a great number of Germans: not Nazis, not Hider's trigger men, but German civilians, German men, women, children, babies, whose "crime" was just to be Germans. Through the wrath of Jews, however understandable, the Germans lost more civilians than at Dresden, more than, or just as many as, the Japanese at Hiroshima, the Americans at Pearl Harbor, the British in the Battle of Britain, or the Jews themselves in Poland's occasional pogroms: so I now learned, and I was aghast to learn it. This was no Holocaust or the moral equivalent of the Holocaust, but I knew that if I reported it, I'd be exhibiting, well, call it chutzpah, for I could guess what the world would say, but I felt I'd be doing the righteous thing both as a reporter and as a man who's a Jew.
I'm not a Biblical scholar, but I went to Saturday school (I was voted the "most religious") and I knew that the Torah tells us to bear honest witness, tells us, indeed, that if someone sins and we know it and don't report it, then we're guilty too. The men (and the woman, a scholar says) who wrote the Torah didn't cover up Jewish misdeeds. Even when Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, sinned - God told him to go to Israel, but he went to Egypt instead - the Torah reported it. It reported that Judah, whose name is the source of "Jew," made love to a harlot, and it reported that Moses, even Moses, trespassed against the Lord, who then didn't let him into the Prom….
039--Will the New York City Police let the Irish in? The first man who Barek approached was a Jewish grocer from Miechow, Barek's home town. Barek saw him and cried out, "Moshe!"
"Bolek!" The man responded to Barek using his Polish name, not his Jewish one. "You're alive!" the man said in Polish, embracing him. "But don't call me Moshe now, I'm Max." He took Barek to the second floor to meet other officers - lieutenants and captains - in the Office of State Security, but Barek already knew them. Many were Jewish boys from Miechow, though few of them used the names that Barek knew them by. Some others were Jews from Landwirtschaft, his first concentration camp, and several were Catholics who Barek didn't know. Or were these "Catholics" also Jews? "Oh, Bolek's here, Bolek's here!" the man who was Moshe/Max kept saying. Not even stopping to swear him in, the man said, "Bolek will work with us!"
"Good!" "Great!" "Welcome!" the others said. The abundance of Jews was a nice surprise, a wonderment even, but Barek wasn't surprised that the Jews would use Polish names in a Polish paramilitia. He himself said he'd adopt the name of a Miechow butcher and be Bolek Jurkowski. "And your girl friend?" said Moshe/Max, for Barek had admitted being in love with the girl who'd stayed on the cart with him.
"Her name is Regina, so she'll be Resia," Barek said.
He started work on Monday, February S. He was given an office on Beate Street, as well as a sunny apartment a German had left behind. In his job as a second lieutenant, he was soon raiding the sewers, throwing grenades into one by the Savoy Restaurant and killing three men in SS gray. More often, he was talking to German informants, and, on their say-so, bringing in German suspects. After work, Barek and the other officers met in apartments to listen to round-dialed radios. "The troops crossed the Oder southeast of Breslau," the announcer might say. "To cross it. . . ."
"They aren't in Breslau yet. They should bomb it," a boy would say.
"Even if they bomb it," another would say, "the troops will have to go house to house."
"If they bomb it, there won't be a house to go to." "Sure there will."
048--Gleiwitz was occupied now. On Tuesday, January 23, the Russians had rolled to the quaint city hall and to Neptune's statue. Long before that, the Nazi party brass - the "golden pheasants" in fine brown uniforms - had fled towards the setting sun, and the common people were in the cellars, waiting. The mothers and fathers were lying on bumpy potatoes, and the children were playing with Christmas presents like Messerschmitt planes made of swastika-covered wood. "Ba-ba-bang! You're Russian! You're dead!" the children cried in German until on Tuesday they heard the Russian shells, and the mothers and fathers put the Messerschmitts and the pictures of Hitler into the furnaces, saying, "We must, or the Russians will kill us."
The first shells landed on Kaiser Wilhelm Street and killed two German schoolgirls. In the days after that, the Russians - all Asiatics, covered like so many coat-racks in fur, concertinas, guns, and X-shaped bullet belts - killed the people of Gleiwitz practically aimlessly. They shouted, "Du Gitler! You Hitler!" and they shot policemen, firemen, postmen, and train conductors in navy-blue uniforms, even a man in whose home was a gold-braided epaulet from World War I. They shot some doctors, lawyers, tailors, nurses, carpenters, sculptors, coiffeurs, auditors, watch-store owners, cigar-store owners, shoemakers, bookbinders, principals, miners, even a few escapees from Auschwitz, even Jews. In their cellars the Germans poured schnapps down the drains so the Russians couldn't become drunker, and the women cut off their hair so the Russians wouldn't rape them. "Woman come!" the Russians said anyhow, as they lined up to rape even eight-year-olds and eighty-year-old nuns.
To the people of Gleiwitz it seemed like the Hun Occupation, but the worst hadn't happened yet. At dinner in Tehran, Iran, in November, 1943, Stalin had asked for all Eastern Poland, and Churchill had put down three matches representing all Russia, Poland and Germany. He had then moved the Russian and Polish matches towards the German one and proposed that if Russia get Eastern Poland, Poland should get Eastern Germany. Roosevelt had said yes, and by January, 1945, the plan was for Gleiwitz, Breslau, Stettin, Stolp, and 44,000 square miles of Germany to be handed to Polish officials like Lola. But early in February, when Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt met again at the czar's summer palace in Yalta, on the Black Sea, Stalin had also asked for ten billion dollars and - it turned out - for two hundred thousand laborers from Germany. On Wednesday, February 14, Lola's first day in the Office of State Security, the Russians put up a poster in Gleiwitz,
1. All male Germans between the ages of z6 and 50 must report within 48 hours to the Labor Conscription Office....
2. All must bring at least two complete sets of winter clothing, blankets, cooking utensils, and food for at least 10 days... .
Since the Labor Conscription Office was the Gleiwitz prison, Lola didn't go to Gleiwitz immediately. She waited in Kattowitz for the Russians to do their "selection" and for the prison to pass to Polish control.
Meanwhile, the Germans of Gleiwitz reported in. If they didn't, the Russians went to their homes telling them, "Come with us," or snatched them off the streets even if they were seventy-five. At the prison, the Germans moved in counterclockwise circles until they got on the cattle cars, 120 per car. Like the Jews before them, most of them had to stand up, eat the crumbs, and sip the water condensing on door-rails as they rolled to camps in Russia five hundred miles past Moscow, where they dug the peat in 120 degrees or the snow at 65 below. But some Germans went to a camp much closer to Gleiwitz. "We were in Auschwitz," a coal miner wrote to a Catholic priest. "In the dismal moonlight, every lamppost looked like a gallows, and every pool of water like a pit that was waiting for us. We were sure we'd never get out of this hell alive."
Auschwitz by now was a tourist town. In truck after truck, the Russian and Polish soldiers came to learn about their enemies. They were met by a tour conductor, a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz who was none other than Adam, the Spinoza-devoted philosopher. "Now, here's where the train came in," Adam would say as matter-of-factly as someone in an INFORMACIA booth. "And here," he'd say as he walked along, "is where the train stopped and the old people, mothers and fathers, and children got out. It was chaos here. Everyone screaming, 'Jacob!' or 'Josel Where are you?' and everyone being screamed at, 'Schnell!' The men went here," Adam would gesture and…
052--"Boil-covered Jew" to Josef's brother, beating him up, and Josef was eager to end antisemitism in Poland. At age fifteen, he discovered how in a book by a Jew, Karl Marx,
What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Haggling. Very well! A society that abolishes the preconditions of haggling renders the Jew impossible.
No capitalism meant no haggling, no haggling meant no Jews, no Jews meant no antisemitism, said Marx, and Josef wasn't offended by Marx's argument. He thought of his hours bound, like a sado-masochist, in black leather straps, and he agreed that the Jewish religion was the Jews' opiate.
He joined a communist cell in Lublin. He stopped saying "Baruch ata" and started using words like the Inevitable Victory of the Proletariat. Events like the fall of Rome or even of Poland, to Germany, seemed to Josef like minor tremors ahead of the Great Day to Come. In fifty years, what would the world remember about them? Just that the Vandals were, vandals and the Germans counterrevolutionaries. Josef himself, being communist, was in a jail when the Germans invaded, but the jailers fled and he unscrewed his bed, battered his cell door down, battered the office door down, took out the-keys, unlocked all the cells, shouted, "We're free!" and, just ahead of the Germans, walked to Russia.
Russia was Marx's dream. It wasn't antisemitic, as far as Josef could see. Jews near China were building a Jewish Republic, a home for Yiddish literature, Yiddish theater, and Yiddish art, though not for Jewish haggling or Jewish religion. Molotov's wife was a Jew, Kaganovich ("the Son of Cohen"), was Stalin's pal, and Stalin himself had told a Jewish reporter, "Antisemitism is cannibalism." It got the death penalty in Russia, Stalin had said, and Josef had promptly volunteered for the Russian army. He fell back to Stalingrad, switched to the Polish army, and led his battalion across a world of brick chimneys - everything else was in ruins - to Warsaw. He was appointed chief of the Office of State Security for Silesia, opened an office in Kattowitz, put up a picture of Stalin, and put Jews in charge of Intelligence, Imprisonment, etcetera, and in three-fourths of the other officers' jobs. But still, Josef was not the good fairy.
The good fairy was Stalin. Stalin's fondness for Jews wasn't strange to the Jews, who assumed that he wanted the Germans pursued by the hounds of hell: themselves. In fact, Stalin wasn't a German-hater. At age thirty-three he had lived in Vienna as Hitler was painting postcards and anti-perspirant posters near by. Hitler's army was one hundred miles from Moscow when Stalin proclaimed, "Hitlers come and go, but the German people remain." Nor was Stalin serious when, in Tehran, he proposed that the Allies execute 50,000 German officers after the war. "Never!" Churchill retorted. "Fifty thousand," said Stalin. "I'd rather be shot myself" said Churchill. "Well, 49,000," said Roosevelt, but Stalin was only pulling their legs. And now Stalin was sending the Germans to camps in Russia whose signs didn't say "All hope abandon" but "Hitlers come and go, but the German people remain."
Why then was Stalin so partial to Jews? Stalin didn't say. On Christmas Eve, 1943, he simply invited some Jewish and Catholic Poles who were living in Moscow to dine at the Kremlin. He served them Georgian wine, said, "To Poland," and declared them the Polish absentee government. On his orders, a Jew whose father had died at Treblinka would be chief of the Office of State Security, and Jews would be chiefs of all or almost all the departments, though from now on their names wouldn't be Jewish ones but "General Romkowski"s and "Colonel Rozanski"s. In time, these people put Jews in most of the Office's upper-echelon jobs in Warsaw and in Poland's provinces. In one such job was Josef, who now would be Jozef, and who'd never wonder, Why does Stalin like Jews?
079--If he had, he'd have said like Shlomo, "You must stop doing this." He'd once been informed against, remember, he'd been arrested at the Silesia Factory, in Bedzin, he'd been beaten in this very office in Kattowitz, he'd signed a confession that said, "I did sabotage," and he knew that a man who was beaten enough would confess, "Yes, I was a Nazi." He knew that the Nazis, the real ones, had fled (or been shot by the Russians) in January and that the Germans who'd stayed in Silesia probably weren't Nazis, and, in fact, that a German who was a Nazi wasn't necessarily evil. One day Pinek was at a Kattowitz prison when he spotted the former director of the Silesia Factory; the man who'd told the Gestapo, "I can't run the factory without him," without Pinek. "Mr. Pitschner!" said Pinek. "What are you doing here?"
"They arrested me," the startled director said. He looked at Pinek and his three captain's stars like a man confronting the Reaper, and Pinek turned to a prison officer crossly.
"Why did you arrest him?"
"He directed a German factory!"
"Did he kill any Jews? Did he kill any Poles?"
"No, he didn't, but - "
"You can't just go and arrest him!"
" - but he's a Nazi!"
"Well, I'm releasing him!" Pinek said, and he brought the German home for a dinner on Rosenthal china. The day after that, Pinek sent out a memo,
In accordance with Regulations, a German must be investigated before he or she is arrested ...
and when, for the twentieth time, Pinek's sister's boyfriend came up to Pinek's office moaning, "I've got a German who won't confess," the Secretary exploded. He guessed that the boy had been torturing one of the Germans who were the victims of ill-intentioned informers, and he shouted, "I told you, Chaim! Ninety percent of these people, they're innocent!" A part of Pinek wanted to fire the boy, but Pinek's sister, who'd moved back to Kattowitz, coughing, to be nearer her blue-eyed idol, had said to Pinek, "Be good to Chaim," and Pinek now promoted him to assistant chief of Imprisonment.
086--She didn't tell her Jewish and gentile guards, "Go get'em." She just didn't enforce the Office's rule that the prisoners couldn't be punished at one's sweet will. She didn't intervene when her guards got drunk, opened the cells, pulled out the Germans, put blankets on them so the welts wouldn't embarrass the Polish courts, said, "Pigs!" and then used their guns like clubs. At Auschwitz the Jews weren't raped (the SS men could be hanged for it) but at Gleiwitz one ardent interrogator pulled off a German girl's clothes, pulled her onto his lap, and told her, "Let's do it! I've got a Persian lamb coat for you!" but Lola simply ignored it. In time, the Germans' screams seemed an attribute of the prison air, but Lola said nothing, and if any inner voice told the Jewish guards, You don't know he's guilty, then the Germans' blond hair, blue eyes, and the Germans' own German language attested that they were Hitler's hatchet men.
One day a German in pitch black pants, the SS's color, showed up in Lolas prison. He'd been spotted near the city square by a Pole who'd said, "Fascist! You're wearing black!" At that, the German had bolted off, but the Pole chased him a mile to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, tackled him by a gold mosaic, hit him, kicked him, and took him to Lola's prison. Lola didn't intercede as some guards, all girls, seized the incriminating evidence: the man's black pants, pulling them off so aggressively that one of his tendons tore. The man screamed, but the girls said, "Shut up!" and they didn't recognize that the pants were part of a boy scout uniform. The "man" was fourteen years old.
The girls decided to torture him. By now, the Office of State Security had 227 prisons for Germans, and each had its characteristic way of taking revenge for World War II. The boys used sticks in Breslau but splinters in Frankenstein, forcing them up a German's nails. The boys in Wunschelburg whipped a German, poured coffee into the whip-wounds, and told him, "You won't just die! You'll croak!" At the 8oo-person prison in Myslowitz, whose commandant was a Jew from Auschwitz, twenty years old, the boys dumped excrement on a German's head, told him, "Pick that shit up," and, when the German did, dumped it on his head again. The boys in Glatz played accordions to drown out the "Nein"s as they knocked a German's teeth out, and one Jewish boy in Neisse made a German pull out his own gold tooth, yelling, "You did that to me!" The boy was being figurative, for in fact he'd been castrated at Auschwitz as part of an SS experiment, and his Jewish co-workers in Neisse didn't think he had given the German tit for tat.
The girls in Gleiwitz used fire. They held down the German boy, put out their cigarettes on him, and, using gasoline, set his curly black hair afire. Outside on Kloster Street, the priest from the Church of Saints Peter and Paul sought to get to Lola's ear and say, "He's only fourteen." At last released, the German went home, fell into bed, and, wrapping his arms around his head like a boxer who's on the ropes, continued screaming, "Don't do it!" His scalp was a moth-eaten rug, and when, at times, he was sane enough to go out, the other boys in his boy scout troop collected around him like autograph hounds. They asked him, "What did they do?" "I'm sick of it! Go away!"
"How did they do it? Matches?"
"Go away, or I'll beat you up!"
"No, what did the Polish men do?"
"The worst was the women! Beat it!" the German boy said. In time, he was sent to a mental ward, and he never left it.
It annoyed her, but Lola was expected to feed the Germans. The girl who at Auschwitz was given a soup full of wood, cotton, buttons, even a waterlogged mouse, was to dish up potato soup to Germans who might have been on the Auschwitz staff. She grudgingly did, but the Germans starved on the wet potatoes and the noetic entrees. "Oh God! I want schnitzel!" one German told another.
"How do you make it?"
"You need some pork - "
"Oh God, I want pork!"
By now the Germans were skeletons, their orbits black, their eyes like water in wells. If the guards weren't watching, they ate the wet bread in the garbage pails and the old seaweed-colored scraps in the halls, scooping them up as they mopped. To add to the Germans' torment, the guards at all hours gorged themselves on fried sugar sandwiches. One day the guards brought a cow to the prison, shot it, ordered the Germans, "Chop it up," cooked it, and gobbled it down as the Germans watched. And one day the guards shot a cow in Gleiwitz, tugged it onto their truck while calling, "Hou... Ruk!" the Polish for "Yo heave... Ho!" and feasted on filet mignon while giving the Germans bones. One guard, a Jew, who now was two-hundred-and-something pounds, told the others one day, "My geburtztag's today. My birthday's today," and at six o'clock served them a platter of ham, bacon, sausage viennois, herring, and carp marinated in sugar-and-onion sauce. As they chased this down with Russian vodka, the Catholic guards sang, "Tatina, Tatina! My girlfriend!" and the Jewish guard told them, "Here's how the Jews would sing it." And, his feet tapping, his elbows high as a scarecrow's, shaking the crows away, the Jewish guard sang, "Tatina, Tatina! My goilfriend!" as the Catholics roared and the Germans starved.
One morning a ton of potatoes came to the Gleiwitz railroad station, and Lola's adjutant, Moshe, decided to torment the Germans with them. He ordered a Catholic guard to get the potatoes, telling him, "Don't take the Ford, and don't take Lolek," Lolek being the prison's horse.
092--The guard put the German's body in Lolek's, the horse's, wagon, and to hide it from peering eyes he covered it with potato peels. He sent for Lolek's groom, a German who always accompanied her, for, to get bread in Gleiwitz, he'd trained her to kick at everyone else. "Good Lolek!" the German exclaimed as he, another prisoner, and the guard climbed aboard and as Lolek clopped out the Kioster Street Gate. They went past the cemetery to a remoter one and, after throwing out the potato peels, went under an arch inscribed in Latin, LIVING TO DIE WELL, DYING TO LIVE WELL, and under another arch of cool linden trees. At the sexton's office the guard said, "We have a dead body with us," the sexton said, "Go to the morgue," and the hearse continued under the lindens to a stucco-fronted house. The prisoners lifted the German out by his arms and legs, dropped him on a wooden table, left, said, "Good Lolek!" and rumbled back to Lolas prison.
Meanwhile, the German's cellmates, who had inherited his bed, had taken sick too, and soon the smells of typhus suffused much of Lola's domain. One man had red boils, and one had black blisters - one didn't sweat, but one was just sopping, his palms and soles looking water-logged. One man saw and one man heard, hallucinations. In one cell, all the Germans succumbed, but in one they were unaware of the epidemic around them. At dawn every day, the guards who banged on the doors calling in Polish, "Pobudka! Get up!" had to use stretchers to get some people to the etherized nurse's room or - again, every day - to Lola's own stopgap morgue. The clerks typed up the "I wish to inform you of 's death," and the guards piled the bodies, four at a time, sometimes, onto Lolek's wagon and, to keep the deep secret, covered them up with waste paper or with potato peels.
They took the thin bodies to the cemetery, where the sexton shooed off the red-toothed cats and, at night, dumped them into a trench near the linden trees.
Lola didn't close the prison down. She didn't tell the Office, "No new prisoners," for the Office would just send the suspects to other typhus-filled prisons in Germany. Lola couldn't stay on top of her paperwork, though. Who was still living? Who was deceased? She wasn't really sure.
096--Pincus explained. A friend in Prague was in Czechoslovakias own Office of State Security, which - and Pincus didn't know why - Stalin had also packed with Jews. Pincus's friend had said, "Come with me," and had shown him a prison for Germans there. It was five floors high, and the Germans who Pincus saw there weren't in cells but on the five-floor staircase. Boys, girls, men, and old wrinkled women, the Germans were running up the stairs hysterically and, at the top, were turning as though playing tag and running down and, at the bottom, were turning again and running up. When one German fell, the others didn't stop but, as the man or woman lay moaning, ran up or down over his or her dying body. All the Germans were naked, and the Czechs on all five floors were telling them, "Faster!" "German pigs!" "Master race!" "Heil Hitler!" and rubber-clubbing them if they straggled, egging them on. The runners were shrieking, the floorboards cracking, the Czechs screaming, "Faster!" the noise in the stairwell echoing like in an organ pipe: the music of hell, and Pincus had told his Czech friend, "If I had known this, I wouldn't have come.
"No, I've seen enough," Pincus told Lola and her Russian flame. "Oh, come on," the Russian insisted.
"Do you know the Jewish teachings?"
"Well, once," Pincus said, "there was a bad man in Jerusalem. And the people drowned him, and his body drifted downstream, and Hillel-Do you know who Hillel was?"
"Yes," said the Russian. Hillel was a Jew contemporary with Christ.
"Well, Hillel saw the man's body and said - " and Pincus said six Hebrew words that he then translated as, "'Because you drowned others, they have drowned you, and they who drowned you shall be drowned."' Or what goes around, comes around.
Just somewhat subdued, the Russian said, "That's how you see it. But I can't live with this wisdom. Not after what the Germans did."
"Can you live with it, Lola?" Pincus said.
Lola said nothing. Her mother had sometimes quoted the Talmud, "The measure that a man measures with, he shall be measured by," but Lola couldn't see the relevance of the drowned man in Pincus's story. He was a bad man, wasn't he? If guilty Germans in Gleiwitz died, why should she die too? And who would kill her? The Allies? The hangman at Nuremburg? The Russians? The Poles? Clearly not God, who'd died at Auschwitz Himself. That night Lola gave Pincus a welcome-to-Poland dinner, but to her his story was mumbo jumbo: was Hebrew.
099--Adam believed it. He'd often heard on the radio of SS from Auschwitz getting three years, of SS who'd beaten up Jews, three years, of SS who'd tortured them, life, and he guessed that the priest might get - What? Three months? He didn't calculate that to try ten thousand suspects, the ten busy judges in Kattowitz needed at least ten years. He put the good priest on a jam-packed truck to the coal-mine country, black as Hiroshima, and to a "meadow" made of gray slag near the city of Schwientochlowitz ("Shveentokhlovits"). "Get out!" the guards at the meadow shouted, and, with the other suspects, the priest walked through the double barbed wire and the whine of 6,000 volts to an old covered market, the Germans' camp. "Face the wall!" the guards shouted, and the priest turned to a wood barracks wall. Behind him he couldn't see the giant steel wheels, turning like in Ezekiel above the coal-mine shafts, but he heard their dinosaur roars and he smelled a sweet smell that he slowly perceived wasn't of coal but of dead human beings. He wondered, Who's dead here? "Don't talk!" the guards shouted, for, like the SS at Auschwitz, the guards didn't want the new arrivals to know they were in a death camp - a death camp for Germans, run by a Jew.
105--All had lost loved ones during the war, and though the Germans in the brown barracks were SS, Storm Section, Hitler Youth and Nazi suspects, to the guests it was quite enough that they were Germans. They willingly would have shot them dead, but a club provided a lot more emotional satisfaction, and the boys and girls brandished some as they marched on the dark brown barracks. At Auschwitz the SS had been forbidden to hurt a Jew for emotional satisfaction, and SS men who did this could, sometimes would, be imprisoned, but the guests didn't fear that the Office would punish them. Unlike the SS, the guests had genuine grievances.
They slammed open the brown-barracks door. They switched on the lights, and the Germans rose so precipitously that a lot of the bed boards cracked, the men and boards crashing down on the Germans below, the Germans then screaming, the evening beginning. "Sing the National Anthem!" Shlomo said for variety's sake. "Sing it!"
"Germany, Germany, over everything...."
"Over everything in the world...."
"Holding together fraternally...."
"For defense and defiance...."
"Tall!" Shlomo cried to a tall blond man. "Lie down right here! Tall!" to another tall man. "Lie down beside him! Tall!" to another one. "Lie beside him!" As soon as the three were lined up, Shlomo cried, "You! Lie on top of them, crosswise! No!" he said, clubbing the man. "I said crosswise! You!" he continued, and he kept piling up Germans, three this way, three that, till he had a human cube as high as a hand could reach. "All right!" Shlomo said, and his guests started swinging the clubs, whacking away at the cube as if they were hunters and it were a pod of Canadian seals. The air was thick with the grunts of the guests and the thud' of the wood upon bones. In the high tiers the Germans cried, "Please!" the Germans in the center tiers moaned, but the Germans in the low tiers were mute, for the weight of the two dozen people on top had pushed their viscera out and the Germans were dying. "Pigs!" cried the party guests, pounding away, but Shlomo just leaned on a bed, watching, laughing like a nut, his code name in the Jewish partisans.
A last the tired guests left, but Shlomo still wasn't satisfied. He had more bashes on Fridays, Saturdays, and Monday, May 7, the day the Germans surrendered - his guests, as they went through the wire, firing their guns at the midnight sky in lieu of Roman candles. On other nights, Shlomo and his guards attacked the brown barracks themselves, asking the Germans, "How many blows?" "I want twenty," "Well, we'll oblige you," and after inflicting the twenty, telling the Germans, "One more! You didn't say, 'Thank you!"' The boys did this every night in May, June and July, until when the crew-cut but kindly priest, the one who'd debated with Adam, came to Schwientochlowitz, the nights were as ritualistic as a "Please tuck me in." At around ten, a sergeant would shout "Attention!" and the Germans would leap out of bed like volunteers, raise their right arms, say "Heil Hitler!" sing the Horst Wessel Song, and in answer to "How many blows?" say "Fifteen," for if a German said "Ten," the guards would say "Coward!" and give the German fifty. The guards used clubs, bed boards, crowbars, and the Germans' own crutches to give the Germans their fifteen blows, and at times they blurred the distinction between corporal and capital punishment by seizing a German's arms and legs and swinging his head against the wall like a battering ram. In the center ring, Shlomo used his pet birchwood stools on the Germans, but he was unsatisfied and his guards came back again and again on many marathon nights.
The dead bodies went to the morgue every morning. The broken stools went to the carpenter, a man who sat melting the glue-bars, muttering, "Mary and Joseph! More stools!" and the dead people's names went to Shlomo. He tallied them up - he had twenty, sometimes, from the brown barracks, twenty from the other barracks - and he then mailed a notice to all the dead people's wives,
NOTICE. On July ,------------ 1945' the Prisoner----------- died of a heart attack.
The body count was enormous, but Shlomo was still aware of the six hundred brown-barracks men, the eighteen hundred "collaborator" men, and the six hundred "collaborator" women still alive. He himself didn't touch them (he just touched the brown-barracks men) but the guards started beating them all: if they didn't salute, if they didn't say "Yes, sir" in Polish, if they didn't pick up their hairs in the barber shop, if they didn't lick up their blood. The guards put the Germans into a doghouse, beating them if they didn't say "Bow wow." They got the Germans to beat each other: to jump on each other's spines and to punch each other's noses, and if a German pulled his punches, the guards said, "I'll show you how," and hit the Germans so hard that they once knocked a German's glass eye out. The guards raped the German women - one, who was thirteen years old, got pregnant - and trained their dogs to bite off the German men's genitals at the command of "Sic!" And still three thousand remained, and Shlomo hated them more than he had in February, hated them for not dying compliantly.
It seemed as though hate were a muscle and the longer he used it, the bigger it got - as though every day he had bench-pressed two hundred pounds and, far from being worn out, now could press 220.
At last, in August, the lice came to Shlomo's aid. A man got typhus, the other men in his bed did too, and the 104-degree fever spread like a flash fire in Shlomo's camp. In their barracks the Germans lay sprawled in bed, stirring if any urine dripped from the bed overhead, babbling, "Josefl" or "Jacob!" or "Mommy! Please help me!" The rooms were like shell-shock wards, the body count rose to a hundred per day - one day 138 - and the ascension crew was as busy as mailroom boys, chasing from barracks to barracks, from bed to bed. At every dead body, four of the boys took the arms and legs and, saying, "Hou... Ruk!" swung it onto a stretcher, though once a dead body's arm came off and a legion of half-inch white worms came out. The boys then carried the stretcher (a wake of white worms behind it, once) to the morgue, dumped out the body, chalked it with calcium chloride, and as soon as they could, wearing handkerchiefs, saying the mightiest sort of "Hou...Ruk!" swung it like something made of straw into a high-sided wagon. They then threw more bodies in, and a horse took the load to the grave by the Rawa River.
In time, three-fourths of the Germans at Shlomo's camp were dead, and Shlomo announced, "What the Germans couldn't do in five years at Auschwitz, I've done in five months at Schwientochlowitz." In fact, the Germans at Auschwitz had killed just as many people in five short hours, and Shlomo still wasn't satisfied with his Schwientochlowitz score. At parties now for the Kattowitz boys, Shlomo told Yiddish jokes but his heart wasn't there. "Before the war, the best-known rabbi was Cadyk of Mount Kalwari," Shlomo would say. "He once went to visit the pope, and the people of Rome said, 'Who is the goy with Cadyk of Mount Kalwari?"' Some of Shlomo's guests would leave, some would go to Shlomo's bedroom for sex, but others would stay as Shlomo pulled out his mandolin, tuned and retuned it, and, his arms unaccustomedly heavy, began the sad ballad of Ai Lu Lu Lu.
In the cellar the mother was rocking her son
And was singing this song to put him to sleep,
"Sleep, my son, sleep. My little one, sleep.
Ai lu lu lu, li lu lu lu. "
Then, Shlomo would pause, strumming some A chords. On his face was a look of great sadness, as though the "mother" were his and the "son" were his partisan brother, the one who'd been killed on the horse-drawn sleigh.
108--The Germans at Schwientochlowitz tried to get word out. One man went to the wire shouting, "This place is hell!" He was killed, one man who smuggled messages out was tortured, but one Hitler Youth from Gleiwitz escaped. At three in the morning he hid in the men's latrine, at six he escaped with a coal-mine crew, but Shlomo found him in Gleiwitz and personally drove him to Schwientochlowitz. "Am I allowed to smoke?" the boy asked in Shlomo's van. "Yes," Shlomo said, but when the boy pulled out a pouch of Crimean tobacco, Shlomo just laughed and told him, "You smoke better stuff than I do," and took his tobacco away. Back at Schwientochlowitz, Shlomo told him,, "You swine, you should croak," the guards used the iron poles that the soup-tubs were carried with to beat the boy to a vegetable, and no one tried to escape after that. One man was released, however: a man who'd once been at Auschwitz and who said now, "I'd rather be ten years in a German camp than one day in a Polish one."
Day and night, the civilians of Schwientochlowitz heard the Germans scream, and one Catholic priest tried to tell the world about them. An old, soft-spoken, softhearted man, the priest took a train to Berlin to look up a British officer and to unburden himself upon him. The officer then put a "melancholy account" in the pouch to London,
A priest living in Silesia has been in Berlin. I have known [him] for many years, and I consider him absolutely reliable. He is a man who was always ready, day or night, to help a victim of the Nazi regime.
The officer passed along what the Office was doing to Germans,
Polish officials have [said], "Why should they not die?" Concentration camps have not been abolished but have been taken over by the new owners. At Schwientochlowitz, prisoners who are not beaten to death stand up to their necks, night after night until they die, in cold water --
a true report, for a cistern of water was Shlomo's punishment cell. His mission completed, the priest went back to Silesia, but other whistle-blowers came to Berlin and told the British and Americans of other concentration camps run by the Office of State Security.
The biggest wasn't in Schwientochlowitz but in Potulice, Poland, near the Baltic Sea. Built for Jews, it now was for thirty thousand suspected oppressors of Jews. Every night the commandant went to a barracks there, said, "Attention!" and "Everyone sing Everything Passes By!" and the Germans sang,
Everything passes by,
Everything passes away,
My husband's in Russia,
And his bed's empty today.
"You pigs!" the commandant then cried, and he beat the Germans with their stools, often killing them. At dawn many days a Jewish guard cried, "Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier!" and marched the Germans into the woods outside their camp. "Halt! Get your shovels! Dig!" the guard cried, and when the Germans had dug a big grave, he put a picture of Hitler in. "Now cry!" the guard said. "And sing All the Dogs Are Barking!" and all the Germans moaned,
All the dogs are barking,
All the dogs are barking,
just the little hot-dogs
Aren't barking at all.
The guard then cried, "Get undressed!" and, when the Germans were nude, he beat them, poured liquid manure on them, or, catching a toad, shoved the fat thing down a German's throat, the German soon dying.
At Potulice more Germans died than Jews had died there during the war. At the camp at Myslowitz, near Kattowitz, the Jewish survivors of Auschwitz told the Germans, "Sing!" "Sing what?" "Sing anything! Or we'll shoot you!" and the Germans sang the one song they'd all learned in kindergarten:
All the birds are here already!
All the birds!
Blackbirds, thrushes, finches, starlings,
All the flock!
"You pigs!" the Jews cried, whipping the Germans, and one hundred died at Myslowitz every day. At Grottkau the Germans were buried in potato sacks, but at Hohensalza they climbed right into the coffins, where the commandant wasted them. At Blechhammer the Jewish commandant wouldn't even look at the Germans, and they died sight unseen. The status of "suspect" wasn't enough to grant any German a pardon in Poland and Poland-administered Germany. In that vast area, the Office of State Security ran 1,255 camps for Germans, and twenty to fifty percent of the Germans died in virtually every one.
But the word got out. Taking trains to Berlin, the whistle-blowers reported this to the British and Americans, who put the reports in fat canvas pouches to London and Washington. Apparently someone read them, for on Thursday, August 16, 1945, Winston Churchill rose in the House of Commons and said, "Enormous numbers [of Germans] are utterly unaccounted for. It is not impossible that tragedy on a prodigious scale is unfolding itself behind the Iron Curtain." Another member of Commons said, "Is this what our soldiers died for?" and in Washington an American senator put in the Congressional Record of Friday, August 2, "One would expect that after the horrors in Nazi concentration camps, nothing like that could ever happen again. Unfortunately...." The senator then told of beatings, shootings, of water tortures, of arteries cut, of "brains splashed on the ceiling" in the Office's concentration camps. The pouches then went to Warsaw, where the British ambassador felt that, like Nelson at Copenhagen, he should hold his telescope to his blind eye, and the American ambassador felt that the Germans were whining. But both ambassadors protested to the Polish government.
The loudest objection was by the Red Cross-not the International one, in Geneva, but the American one. Its people in Warsaw drove down to Kattowitz to speak with the Jewish boy who was Secretary of State Security: Pinek, but Pinek was not his cherubic self. He didn't rise for the three olive-clothed men, and his lips were like tight rubber bands as he asked them in German, "What do you want?"
"To inspect the Silesian camps."
"Good. Go to Auschwitz. Why didn't you go there during the war?"
"We are Americans."
"Why didn't the Red Cross in Geneva go?"
"We don't know."
"If you didn't go to Auschwitz, you won't go anywhere now," said Pinek, who, in the partisans, had once found a German radio, and who'd sent urgent messages out, "Dot dot dash... Urgent, urgent, hundreds of Jews being murdered," but who'd never gotten messages back. "You didn't help the Jews, and I won't oblige you now."
"We'll have to report that to Warsaw."
"So do it. I don't respect the Red Cross."
"For the record, then. We are asking you --"
"Go to hell!" Pinek shouted in English, and the men in olive hurried out. They then drove to Warsaw and made their complaint to Jacob, the Jew who was chief of the Office of State Security.
Jacob Berman, from Warsaw, was the last person on earth who'd call a German "You pig." In his childhood he had sipped wine from a silver chalice whenever, on Friday, his father said, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who has created the fruit of the vine." His brothers became a surgeon, professor, psychologist, his sister a Ph.D. in Germanic languages, and Jacob himself a Ph.D. in Polish history, writing his dissertation on late-eighteenth-century butlers. In the Communist Party he became chief of Intelligence but also took care of number one by giving some tips to the Polish police. When the Germans came, Jacob went to Russia, Stalin appointed him to the Pro-Tem Polish Government, and in January, 1945, he returned to Warsaw the elegant head of the Office of State Security. His tailor made a dummy of him and suits fit for Wall Street, and Jacob wore them to the president's palace, sat on a chair with a deerskin seat and a lyre-like back, made in India, and, with long, graceful fingers, raised his Beaujolais saying, "To the New Poland!"
In Warsaw, Jacob was Stalin's main man. On his desk was a phone that he could pick up and someone would say, "Moscow here." He had no title, however, for he liked being the eminence grise, and after he'd heard from Washington, London, Moscow, and the Red Cross, he didn't simply call up Pinek asking, "What's going on?" but drove down to Kattowitz with two Jewish ministers and the Party secretary, Gomulka. The four went to Pinek's plush office, Pinek said, "Comrades! This is an honor!" and Jacob just sat to one side, holding his teacup in ladylike fingers, seldom sipping, seldom speaking, as Gomulka said, "Please brief us," and as Pinek picked up a two-foot pointer, pointed to a map of Poland, and started in.
"Comrades. In Katowice," Pinek said, using the Polish for Kattowitz, pointing, "the Fascists are now rounded up, but the Russians still are committing rapes. Over here," the Czech border, "and here," the-, German one, "we have patrols, and no one can cross out of Poland illegally. Recently thirty people tried, and the Office brought them to Katowice. They were Jews, and I was told they were trying to smuggle some gold out. Their watches. Their wedding rings. Comrades," said Pinek, tears in his eyes, "these people had been in Hitler's camps. They were alive by the grace of God. If they didn't want to stay in Poland, who was I to obstruct them?"
"What did you do?" Gomulka asked. Gomulka was smoking a cigarette stub in a cheap metal holder, and Jacob was statue still, hanging on Pinek's every word.
"I told the boy who arrested them, 'These watches, these rings, they're garbage. If you jeopardize any Jews again, I won't arrest the Jews but you."'
"And the Jews?"
"I let them go to Germany."
Gomulka stood up. He walked across to Pinek and patted him. "You did right," said Gomulka. "My wife is a Jew, and I know about them." He sat down again. "Now, what about the camps for Germans?"
"Most of the Germans there don't belong," Pinek said. "They're innocent, and we should free them."
"Why don't we?"
"We need more judges."
"I'll work on it," one of the ministers said.
"But how are the Germans treated?" Gomulka asked.
"As if they're in heaven, compared to how they treated the Jews."
"We mustn't mistreat them," Gomulka said.
"We don't," Pinek said. He really believed this, for he hadn't gone to Shlomo's bashes, and his kid brother, who had, had never described them to Pinek. "We aren't murderers," Pinek said.
"Well, I have a problem with the Red Cross."
"I don't respect the Red Cross."
"But they're worried about the Germans."
"The Germans!" Pinek said angrily. "Who told the Germans to come to Poland? And destroy Polish towns? And kill Polish people? And commit genocide on the Jews? I told the Red Cross it should visit the Jews who came out of German camps!"
"But comrade!" Gomulka protested. He acted, incredibly, as though he couldn't simply say, "I order you, Captain." His fist hit on Pinek's desk, and the skin on his cheekbones stretched like the skin of a warpath-riding Indian. "We must observe the Geneva Conventions!"
"If you tell me, 'Let in the Red Cross,' I'll do it."
Gomulka paused. "No, I won't order you."
"Comrade," said Jacob, at last speaking up. "We have your word that the Germans are treated well." Jacob spoke slowly, and, like the greatest actors, he didn't gesture at all. His mother, father, one brother, and sister were dead, and he had little love for the Germans, but he was now forty-four and a power-that-be in Poland, and he didn't want to derail himself by telling the Red Cross, "Beat it." He was happy to leave that to Pinek and carefully said, "As for the Red Cross --"
"Do what seems best."
"Thank you," said Pinek.
Then Pinek and his four comrades went to Pinek's apartment, where Pinek served vodka in Czechoslovakian crystal and, as hors d'oeuvres, herrings on crackers on Rosenthal gold-bordered china. After dinner Pinek played Russian songs like Apples and Pears on a Steinway piano, and the great men of Poland hopped like the Cossacks, singing along. Pinek called Jacob "Jacob," and Jacob called Pinek "Pawel," his alias in the Office of State Security. He said to Pinek quietly, "Amcha?" the Hebrew for "People?" meaning, "Are you our People?" and Pinek answered him, "Ich bin ayn Yid, " the Yiddish for "Yes, I'm a Jew." Pinek then said to Gomulka, "Amcha?" but Gomulka answered, "What did you say?" and Jacob laughed decorously. One Jewish minister dozed off on Pinek's sofa, but the other was like at a Legion hall, slapping everyone's back. At half past one the VIPs fell asleep in Pinek's guest rooms, but when Pinek woke up they were gone, as was the Czechoslovakian crystal, the Rosenthal china, and the angel-embellished silver. In their place was a handwritten note,
We don't know how to scrounge from the Germans, and we are too prominent to try to. We thank you for your hospitality and for all these beautiful things. We will see you in Warsaw.
Gomulka and Gang
On reading this, Pinek laughed. At the Office he told all the Jews, "What gonifs they are! What thieves they are!" He never let in the Red Cross - the American or International one - nor did the leaders of Poland's other provinces, and the Germans kept singing swan-songs at Schwientochlowitz, etcetera. In the next three years, from sixty thousand to eighty thousand would die in the Office's institutions, much, much less than the number of Jews who died at Auschwitz but more than the number who died at Belsen or Buchenwald or one thousand places the Jews of the world now proclaim, "We will never forget."
138--Most of the Germans got off at the Office's camps on the German border. For food, they begged from the German civilians - from Germans who, every day, had only four ounces of bread themselves - and begged from the Russians, tore up the grass, cooked it, and ate it. At last they crossed into Germany, weeping, singing in German Holy Lord, We Praise Thee, and, alas, ending up at jam-packed stations like one in Berlin that, in a pouch to Washington, an American described like this,
The mind reverts to Buchenwald,
and a Britisher like this,
Children had running sores. Old men, unshaven, red-eyed, looked like drug addicts, who neither felt, nor heard, nor saw. They sat on the platform looking like a lot of duffel bags,
and ten Germans died on that platform every day. In time the rest of the Germans settled in Germany, East and West, and then, like the Jews, they counted heads, and of the ten million who'd lived in Poland and Poland-administered Germany during the war, one-and-one-half million were dead. "What happened to the Jews was sad," a mother from Gleiwitz said. "But there was another holocaust too."
In time all of Poland and 44,000 square miles of Germany were rid of Germans, were Deutscherein, and the Office's institutions were full of Poles, 150,000 Poles from the antecedents to Solidarity. In places like Gleiwitz, the Poles stood against the prison wall as Implementation tied them to big iron rings, said, "Ready!" "Aim!" "Fire!" shot them, and told the Polish guards, "Don't talk about this." The guards, being Poles, weren't pleased, but the Jacobs, Josefs and Pineks, the Office's brass, stayed loyal to Stalin, for they thought of themselves as Jews not as Polish patriots. And that's why the Good Fairy Stalin, the man who didn't hate the Germans but who abhorred the Enemies of the People, the Agents of Reactionary Elements, the Oppressors, Imperialists and Counterrevolutionaries, be they the Germans, Russians or Poles, had hired all the Jews on Christmas Eve, 1943, and had packed them into his Office of State Security, his instrument in the People's Republic of Poland. The Jews, Stalin thought correctly, wouldn't side with the pre-Solidarity Poles.
This book had a glaring error when it was published in November, 1993. The error appeared in the Preface, where I wrote that in 1945 some Jews who'd survived the Holocaust killed thousands of German civilians: German men, women, children, babies. That allegation was accurate, but I then wrote, "I knew that if I reported it, I'd be exhibiting, well, call it chutzpah, for I could guess what the world would say." By then I'd worked seven years on An Eye for an Eye, and I truly believed that the world could say nothing I hadn't already guessed. It may seem paranoid, but I'd even guessed that on some 40-watt radio station somewhere, someone from the extremities might call in and call me a Nazi, and this indeed happened on a small station in Rutherford, New Jersey. But never in my wildest speculations did I suppose that an eminent intellectual on a TV network would refer to "A man called John Sack" and another intellectual would say, "Well, first of all, these people are antisemites, second of all they're neo-Nazis." Ten years earlier, I'd done an expose of the Nazis on Channel Two in Los Angeles - I was still on the Nazi hit list, and I hadn't foreseen that scholars would call me one.
When I wrote An Eye for an Eye, I hadn't guessed that people would call it a monstrous lie. A lot of it, after all, had been fact-checked by three major magazines and a paper whose editor said, "It may be the most accurate story in the history of American journalism." A lot had been fact-checked by 60 Minutes, which found eight eyewitnesses who I hadn't, so I hadn't guessed that the titles of some reviews would be False Witness and The Big Lie. One noted Jewish newspaper said, "Sack is transparently writing docudrama," and "Sack is trafficking with imagined reality," and it then argued that Lola, the central character, couldn't have commanded the prison for Germans that is the central locale in An Eye for an Eye. Lola herself had told me, "I was the commandant," thirty-five people (among them the current commandant) had corroborated her, and I had the document appointing her and a document signed by her as the naczelnika or commandant, but the newspaper argued, "The unlikelihood is overwhelming." Another review referred to Lola as "Lola," as if I'd concocted her.
When I read these stories, I felt I was being lectured by Chico Marx, who was asking me, "Who do you believe? Your own two eyes or me?" But also I hadn't guessed there would be reviewers who'd lie, reviewers who'd write, "Sack never adequately estimates the number of Germans slaughtered," when I'd demonstrably estimated this in Chapter 9, and reviewers who'd write, "Only in Sack's notes does he reveal that the camp commander [at Lamsdorf] was a Polish Catholic," when I'd demonstrably revealed this in Chapter ii. Other reviewers wrote that I'd written things that I hadn't, wrote, "Dare anyone who has even a modicum of respect for language use an expression like - " whereupon the reviewer, a rabbi, quoted some words that I'd never written anywhere, ever. In Chapter 4 of An Eye for an Eye, I'd said that three-fourths of the officers - the lieutenants and captains - in the Office of State Security in the city of Kattowitz in February, 1945, were Jews, but a magazine said that I'd said that three-fourths of all the Office in all of Poland were Jews, and a newspaper said that I'd said that three-fourths of all the "factotums" in all of Poland were Jews. Having devised this statistic, the reviewers went on to refute it, a Harvard professor writing, "We know,"
We know how many Jews were in the Office of State Security. According to a tabulation of November 21, 1945, by Boleslaw Bierut, then President of Poland, the Office of State Security had 438 Jews. 438! Not Sack's 75 percent but 1.7 percent.
Now, I'd gone to Harvard, whose motto is veritas, truth, and I'd never expected this. Let's forget that the Harvard professor didn't deny that the head of the Office was a Jew and all or almost all the department heads were Jews. Let's forget that last year some Polish professors found a secret report that in October, 1945, fifty percent of the "leaders" of the Office were Jews. In my innocence, I'd thought it enough that I'd said in An Eye for an Eye that Jews left the Office "as early as June, 1945," that "hundreds of Jews escaped from the Office" by September, 1945, and that "all but a scattering of Jews returned to the Torah and Talmud and fled from the Office by December, 1945." If, as the Harvard professor wrote, there were 438 Jews in the Office as late as November 21, 1945, that's sixty times more than I'd ever mentioned in An Eye for an Eye - and also I'd never guessed that I'd not be allowed to report this. When I wrote a letter to the editor of the Harvard professor's outlet, the editor wouldn't publish it, and when I bought a $425 ad, the editor wouldn't publish that. I then bought an ad in the student paper at Harvard, but the students wouldn't publish it.
When I wrote An Eye for an Eye, I hadn't guessed that a reviewer would cite a whole paragraph that I hadn't written at all. But when An Eye for an Eye was translated into German, a major reviewer said that I take sadistic joy in every awful detail, and to demonstrate this he claimed to cite from the German edition,
die Leichen [waren] schwarz wie Schlamm in einem Abwasserloch... die Gesichter waren verfault, das Fleisch eine klebrige Masse... these Aufieher brullten... die Aufieher schrien... die Frauen... verspurten einen widerwartigen Geschmack,
a paragraph that may be sadistic but, in fact, didn't appear in the German edition and was written anonymously by the reviewer himself. No matter: the criticism so unnerved the German publisher that he destroyed all his six thousand copies, presumably by pulping them, possibly by burning them. In similar circumstances, the Polish publisher canceled out, as with some lengthy excerpts did one German newspaper and one American magazine. Twelve thousand words of An Eye for an Eye were fact-checked, libel-checked, and typeset by that magazine, whose cover would say, "EXCLUSIVE: A DEATH CAMP RUN BY A JEW," but two days before press-time the editor phoned me and told me, "We aren't going to run it." Two other cancellations were by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, which twice invited me to speak on An Eye for an Eye, twice announced this, and twice canceled out.
To be sure, there were honest reviewers and reporters in New York, the New York Daily News, Newsweek, and The Progressive and on public radio and 6o Minutes, but most reviewers seemed to be in determined denial. "Some Jews," they allowed, "became murderers," but they called them "a small group of Jewish survivors" and "one Jewish woman and a handful of Jewish men" who essentially weren't Jews at all. They were "more communist than Jewish," a University of California professor wrote - they were "communists from Jewish families," "communists from Jewish backgrounds," "communists of Jewish origin." Now, I'd known these people seven years and I'd never thought I would read that. I'd interviewed twenty-three Jews who'd been in the Office, and one, just one, had considered himself a communist in 1945. He and the others had gone to Jewish schools, studied the Torah, been bar-mitzvahed, sometimes worn payes. In German camps, at the risk of their lives, some had made matzo on Pesach, and in 1945 they had lighted candles on Shabbas, held seders on Pesach, stood under huppas at weddings, sounded shofars on Rosh Hashanah, and fasted on Yom Kippur.
By whose definition weren't they Jews? Not by the Talmud's, certainly, not by the government of Israel's or the government of Nazi Germany's. Had they died in the Holocaust, I'd have guessed that the world would count them among the six million.
But clearly I'm not good at guessing games. I've been asked but I can't explain why the world has turned itself inside out to avoid confronting this book. Denial, we're told, is our first response when the doctor announces we're going to die, and maybe the Jewish establishment fears that if I report that Jews are normal human beings, that Jews can love, hate, and take revenge just as anyone can, then I trumpet the end of the Jewish religion or Jewish race, perhaps at the hands of the neo-Nazis. Or maybe the Jewish establishment fears that if I report that Jews aren't always pitiful victims who Catholics, Protestants and Moslems, their constant oppressors, owe reparations to, then I trumpet the end of Israel. Maybe the men who (along with God) oversee the Jewish community feel that the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is some sort of sting operation and Jews who are caught confessing to
The sin we've committed in Thy sight
By oppressing our fellow man
are ipso facto not Jews at all but felons of Jewish origin.
I don't believe this. The news that Jews aren't saints is right in the Bible, which says of King Solomon, even King Solomon, "He did evil" - the news is two thousand years old and Jews have hardly suppressed it. Why, then, for fifty years did people suppress the news of Shlomo (Solomon) Morel? I'd have thought that a man who commanded a concentration camp, who Jews and Germans testified killed thousands of prisoners, who was wanted in Poland but who fled to the Middle East - I'd have thought that Shlomo's story was well worth telling, but Shlomo's not German but Jewish, he didn't flee to Syria but Israel, and for almost fifty years not one American newspaper mentioned him. After this book appeared, a dozen papers asked about him, even wrote stories about him and told me the stories would run the next day, but for a year they never did. And then one ran in The New York Times, and the Times's reports of beatings, tortures and murders at Shlomo's camp confirmed what the Harvard professor called the "more outrageous claims" in An Eye for an Eye.
I welcome the Times's candor, however tardy. I don't know anyone, even survivors of Shlomo's camp, who can't sympathize with a man whose father, mother, brothers - there were no sisters - uncles, aunts, and all but one cousin died in the Holocaust, a man whose anguish in 1945 drowned out the Torah's words "Do not take revenge." But many, many people, including me, were dismayed when the very papers that told us each year of the Hun of the Year, of Barbie, Demjanjuk, Bousquet, Touvier, the papers that said "Dog Bites Man" didn't also say "Shlomo Bites Dog," and many, many more would have been dismayed if the normal response of denial had lasted until, after fifty years, it wouldn't have been distinguishable from an old-time political cover-up. I note with pride that the Times's publisher and the Times's executive editor (like me, my agent, and my own editor) are Jews. If the day ever comes when the race that taught the civilized world to love its neighbors has no rachmanis except for its own and is no more enlightened than Serbs and Somalis, then that, I believe, and not An Eye for an Eye, will herald the end of the Jewish religion, the Jewish race, and Israel.
Considering this, I must thank you, the reader, for not caving in to reviews with titles like "Do ME A FAVOR - DON'T READ THIS BOOK" and for reading this new edition. I hope you've observed what so few reviewers did but what, quite curiously, almost all the readers who've written me did: that this is a book on the saving grace of the Jewish religion - which, when Lola returned to it, brought her redemption and love. I hope that in spite of the hullabaloo, you've noticed that no one, no Jew, German or Pole who was present in 1945 (except for the people who say, "I didn't do it") has ever denied anything that I wrote in An Eye for an Eye or its Notes. Back in November, 1993, I had some minor errors, yes - the Polish word is ktoz, not ktory, there is no tunnel under the Brenner Pass - and I thank the people who pointed these out and I've corrected them here. I've also updated some data. But otherwise, the book that incensed so many reviewers is exactly the one you have read, right down to those sad, unsuspecting words "I could guess what the world would say." I thank you for having confronted An Eye for an Eye.