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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

book report: vol. 2 Gulag Archipelago

The American version of Solzhenitsyn's history of the Soviet prison labor camps appears in 3 massive volumes. My earlier book reports (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) came from the first volume, books 1 and 2. The 2nd volume contains books 3 and 4. Some of the quotes, including this one are macabre, but I note them because these are not a serial murderers lone quirks, but a bureaucratic, institutionalized deformity of a national soul that turned inward on itself. All of us are capable of this wickedness. I think part of it is that wickedness is easy. Righteousness is near impossible. So what happens in the far northern camp on Solovetsky Island where monks lived peacefully for centuries and disease invaded the crowded facility?

...the doctor gave terminal cases strychnine; and in the winter the bearded corpses in their underwear were kept in the church for a long time. Then they were put in the vestibule, stacked standing up since that way they took up less space. And when they carried them out, they gave them a shove and let them roll on down Golgotha Hill...

At one time - in 1928- a typhus epicemic broke out in Kem. And 60 percent of those there died, but the typhus crossed to Bolshoi Solovetsky Island as well, and hundreds of typhus patients lay about in the unheated "theatrical" hall all at the same time. And hundreds likewise left there for the cemetery. (So as not to confuse the count, the work assigners wrote the last name of every prisoner on his wrist, and some of those who recovered switched terms with shorter-term cadavers by rewriting the corpses' names on their own hands.) And when many thousands of the Central Asian "Basmachi" rebels were herded here in 1929, they brought with them an epidemic characterized by black spots on the body, and all who fell ill with it died. It could not, of course, be the plague or smallpox, as Solovki people imagined it was, because those two diseases had already been totally wiped out in the Soviet Republic. [Solz. uses the sarcastic voice on every page - jpu] And so they called the illness "Asiatic typhus." They didn't know how to cure it, and here is how they got rid of it: If one prisoner in a cell caught it, they just locked the cell and let no one out, and passed them food only through the door - till they all died. p. 52

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