Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s important 200 Years Together has unfortunately not been translated into English. However, this process is now beginning with the posting of Chapter 20, “In the Camps of GULag.” As the title suggests, the chapter discusses the role of Jews in the Gulag. There are several important themes.
Despite apologetic claims by Jews, in fact Jews lived better in the camps. Obviously, it’s a touchy subject–just like everything else about the role of Jews in the Soviet Union.
If I wished to generalize and state that the life of Jews in camps was especially difficult, then I would be allowed to do so and wouldn’t be peppered with admonitions for unjust ethnic generalizations. But in the camps, where I was imprisoned, it was the other way around – the life of Jews, to the extent of possible generalization, was easier.
Jews also looked out for each other–yet another example of ethnic networking. Free Jews were often in positions of authority and they favored their own people. For example:
A Lett Ane Bernstein, one of my witnesses from Archipelago, thinks that he managed to survive in the camps only because in times of hardship he asked Jews for help and that the Jews, judging by his last name and nimble manners, mistook him for their tribesman – and always provided assistance. He says that in all his camps Jews always constituted the upper crust and that the most important free employees were also Jews (Shulman – head of special department, Greenberg – head of camp station, Kegels – chief mechanic of the factory), and, according to his recollections, they also preferred to select Jewish inmates to staff their units.
The few Jews who did share in the common labor did so out of principle–in order to avoid the stereotype of Jews who did not work. They were rewarded for their efforts by being rejected by “both sides” — indicating that everyone in the camps was aware of the ethnic divide–just as American prisons are organized along ethnic fault lines. But Solzhenitsyn optimistically describes Jews who countered the common tendencies: “I try not to overlook such examples, because all my hopes depend on them.”
Nevertheless, the resentment and hatred of the Jewish position in the camps was real. Solzhenitsyn realizes that all humans are prone to these tendencies, but he also understands that the ethnic divide exacerbated the “heavy resentment”:
When an alien emerges as a “master over life and death” – it further adds to the heavy resentment. It might appear strange – isn’t it all the same for a worthless negligable, crushed, and doomed camp dweller surviving at one of his dying stages – isn’t it all the same who exactly seized the power inside the camp and celebrates crow’s picnics over his trench-grave? As it turns out – it is not, it has etched into my memory inerasably.
The Russians did not show ethnic networking and accordingly suffered. Notice that he sees the mass murder involved in collectivization as a personal loss to his ethnic group.
Those who know about terrific Jewish mutual supportiveness (especially exacerbated by mass deaths of Jews under Hitler) would understand that a free Jewish boss simply could not indifferently watch Jewish prisoners flounder in starvation and die – and not to help. But I am unable to imagine a free Russian employee who would save and promote his fellow Russian prisoners to the privileged positions only because of their nationality, though we have lost 15 millions during collectivization: we are numerous, you can’t care about everyone, and nobody would even think about it.
The White Sea canal, completed in 1933, has gone down in history as a particularly brutal forced labor project in which thousands of workers died. Solzhenitsyn points out that all six of the people in charge of the project were Jews:
- Genrikh Yagoda, head of NKVD.
- Matvei Berman, head of GULag.
- Semen Firin, commander of BelBaltlag (by that time he was already the commander of Dmitlag, where the story will later repeat itself).
- Lazar Kogan, head of construction (later he will serve the same function at Volgocanal).
- Jacob Rapoport, deputy head of construction.
- Naftaly Frenkel, chief manager of the labor force of Belomorstroi (and the evil daemon of the whole Archipelago)
Solzhenitsyn’s observations fit well with the findings of historians like Yuri Slezkine showing that Jews were a political and cultural elite in the Soviet Union. Slezkine draws special attention to Jews as Stalin’s “willing executioners” supervising the greatest crimes of the 20th century.
Throughout the chapter Solzhenitsyn’s brutal honesty shines through. He bends over backward to give examples of Jews who behaved in ways contrary to the general tendencies he and others observed. Nevertheless, he recounts how he was often accused of anti-Semitism simply for recording his observations. It’s okay to depict an evil person as a Russian, but never identify him as a Jew.
Solzhenitsyn’s observations add to the growing evidence of the role of Jews as a hostile elite in the USSR–hostile to the native Russian population and willing to engage in the most brutal crimes against them. This translation is very important for bringing this message to the English-speaking world, if only to dispel the common representation of Jews as always and inevitably historical victims.
White Americans should think long and hard about what these observations imply for them as they become a minority in a country dominated by hostile minorities, including Jews as a hostile elite.
If I haven’t been there, it wouldn’t be possible for me to compose this chapter.
Before the camps I thought that “one should not notice nationalities”, that there are no nationalities, there is only humankind.
But when you are sent into the camp, you find it out: if you are of a lucky nationality then you are a fortunate man. You are provided for. You have survived! But if you are of a common nationality – well then, no offence…
Because nationality is perhaps the most important trait that gives a prisoner a chance to be picked into the life-saving corps of “Idiots” [translator note: from Russian "придурок" - a fool or idiot. This is an inmate slang term to denote other inmates who didn't do common labor but managed to obtain positions with easy duties, usually pretending to be incapable of doing hard work because of poor health]. Every experienced camp inmate can confirm that ethnic proportions among Idiots were very different from those in the general camp population. Indeed, there were virtually no Pribalts among Idiots, regardless of their actual number in the camp (and there were many of them); there were always Russians, of course, but in incomparably smaller proportion than in the camp on average (and those were often selected from orthodox members of the Party); on the other hand, some others were noticeably concentrated – Jews, Georgians, Armenians; and Azeris also ended there in higher proportions, and, to some extent, Caucasian mountaineers also.
Certainly, none of them can be blamed for that. Every nation in the Gulag did its best crawling to survival, and the smaller and nimbler it was, the easier it was to accomplish. And again, Russians were the very last nation in “their own Russian camps”, like they were in the German Kriegsgefan-genenlagers.
Yet it is not us who could have blamed them, but it is they – Armenians, Georgians, highlanders, who would have been in their right to ask us: “Why did you establish these camps? Why do you force us to live in your state? Do not hold us and we will not land here and occupy these such attractive Idiotic positions! But while we are your prisoners – a la guerre comme a la guerre.”
But what about Jews? For Fate interwove Russian and Jews, perhaps forever, which is why this book is being written.
Before that, before this very line, there will be readers who have been in the camps and who haven’t been, who will be quick to contest the truth of what I say here. They will claim that many Jews were forced to take part in common labor activities. They will deny that there were camps where Jews were the majority among Idiots. They will indignantly reject that nations in the camps were helping each other selectively, and, therefore, at the expense of others.
Some others will not consider themselves as distinct “Jews” at all, perceiving themselves as Russians in everything. Besides, even if there was overrepresentation of Jews on key camp positions, it was absolutely unpremeditated, wasn’t it? The selection was exclusively based on merit and personal talents and abilities to do business. Well, who is to blame if Russians lack business talents?
There will be also those who will passionately assert directly opposite: that it was Jews who suffered worst in the camps. This is exactly how it is understood in the West: in Soviet camps nobody suffered as badly as Jews. Among the letters from readers of Ivan Denisovich there was one from an anonymous Jew: “You have met innocent Jews who languished in camps with you, and you obviously not at once witnessed their suffering and persecution. They endured double oppression: imprisonment and enmity from the rest of inmates. Tell us about these people!”
And if I wished to generalize and state that the life of Jews in camps was especially difficult, then I would be allowed to do so and wouldn’t be peppered with admonitions for unjust ethnic generalizations. But in the camps, where I was imprisoned, it was the other way around – the life of Jews, to the extent of possible generalization, was easier.
Semen Badash, my campmate from Ekibastuz, recounts in his memoirs how he had managed to settle – later, in a camp at Norilsk – in the medical unit: Max Minz asked a radiologist Laslo Newsbaum to solicit for Badash before a free head of the unit. He was accepted (1). But Badash at least finished three years of medical school before imprisonment. Compare that with other nurses – Genkin, Gorelik, Gurevich (like one of my pals, L. Kopelev from Unzlag) – who never before in their lives had anything to do with medicine.
Some people absolutely seriously write like this: A. Belinkov “was thrown into the most despicable category of Idiots…” (and I am tempted to inappropriately add “and languishers” here, though the “Languishers” were the social antipodes of Idiots and Belinkov never was among the Languishers). – “To be thrown into the group ofIdiots”! – what’s an expression! “To be diminished by being accepted into the ranks of gentlemen”? And here goes the justification: “To dig soil? But at the age of 23 he not only never did it – he never saw a shovel in his life”. Well then he had no other choice but to become an Idiot.
Or read what Levitin-Krasnov wrote about one Pinsky, a literature expert, that he was a nurse in the camp. Which means that he, on the camp scale, has adhered well. However, Levitin presents this as an example of the greatest humiliation possible for a professor of the humanities.
Or take prisoner who survived, Lev Razgon, a journalist and not a medic at all, who was heavily published afterwards. But from his story in “Ogonek” (1988) we find that he used to be a medic in the camp’s medical unit, and, moreover, an unescorted medic. (From other his stories we can figure out that he also worked as a senior controller at a horrible timber logging station. But there is not a single story from which we can conclude that he ever participated in common labor.)
Or a story of Frank Dikler, a Jew from faraway Brazil: he was imprisoned and couldn’t speak Russian, of course, and guess what? He had pull in the camp, and he has became a chief of the medical unit’s kitchen – a truly magnificent treasure!
Or Alexandr Voronel, who was a ”political youngster” when he landed in the camps, says that immediately after getting in the camp, he was “readily assisted… by other Jewish inmates, who had not a slightest idea about my political views”. A Jewish inmate, responsible for running the bathhouse (a very important Idiot as well), has spotted him instantly and “ordered him to come if he needs any help”; a Jew from prisoner security (also an Idiot) told another Jew, a brigadier: “There are two Jewish guys, Hakim, don’t allow them to get in trouble”. And the brigadier gave them strong protection. “Other thieves, especially “elders”, approved him: You are so right, Hakim! You support your own kin! Yet we, Russians, are like wolves to each other”” (3).
And let’s not forget that even during camp imprisonment, by virtue of a common stereotype regarding all Jews as businessmen, many of them were getting commercial offers, sometimes even when they didn’t actively look for such enterprises. Take, for instance, M. Hafez. He emphatically notes: “What a pity that I can’t describe you those camp situations. There are so many rich, beautiful stories! However, the ethical code of a “reliable Jew” seals my mouth. You know even the smallest commercial secret should be kept forever. That’s the law of the Tribe” (4).
A Lett Ane Bernstein, one of my witnesses from Archipelago, thinks that he managed to survive in the camps only because in times of hardship he asked the Jews for help and that the Jews, judging by his last name and nimble manners, mistook him for their tribesman – and always provided assistance. He says that in all his camps Jews always constituted the upper crust, and that the most important free employees were also Jews (Shulman – head of special department, Greenberg – head of camp station, Kegels – chief mechanic of the factory), and, according to his recollections, they also preferred to select Jewish inmates to staff their units.
This particular Jewish national contract between free bosses and inmates is impossible to overlook. A free Jew was not so stupid to actually see an “Enemy of the People” or an evil character preying on “the people’s property” in an imprisoned Jew (unlike what a dumb-headed Russian saw in another Russian). He in the first place saw a suffering tribesman – and I praise them for this sobriety! Those who know about terrific Jewish mutual supportiveness (especially exacerbated by mass deaths of Jews under Hitler) would understand that a free Jewish boss simply could not indifferently watch Jewish prisoners flounder in starvation and die, and not help. But I am unable to imagine a free Russian employee who would save and promote his fellow Russian prisoners to the privileged positions only because of their nationality. Though we have lost 15 millions during collectivization, we are still numerous. You can’t care about everyone, and nobody would even think about it.
Sometimes, when such a team of Jewish inmates smoothly bands together and, being no longer impeded by the ferocious struggle for survival, they can engage in extraordinary activities. An engineer named Abram Zisman tells us: “In Novo-Archangelsk camp, in our spare time, [we] decided to count how many Jewish pogroms occurred over the course of Russian history. We managed to excite the curiosity of our camp command on this question (they had a peaceful attitude toward us). TheNachlag [camp commander] was captain Gremin (N. Gershel, a Jew, son of a tailor from Zhlobin). He sent an inquiry to the archives of the former Interior Department requesting the necessary information, and after eight months we received an official reply that … 76 Jewish pogroms occurred from 1811 to 1917 on the territory of Russia with the number of victims estimated at approximately 3,000” (That is, the total number of those who suffered in any way.) The author reminds us that during one six-month period in medieval Spain more than twenty thousand Jews were killed (5).
A plot-like atmosphere emanates from the recollections of Josef Berger, a communist, about a highly-placed snitch Lev Ilyich Inzhir. A former Menshevik, arrested in 1930, he immediately began collaborating with the GPU, fearing reprisals against his family and the loss of his apartment in the center of Moscow. He “helped to prepare the Menshevik trial” of 1931, falsely testified against his best friends, was absolved and immediately appointed as a chief accountant of Belomorstroi. During the Yezhovschina he was a chief accountant of the GULag “enjoying the complete trust of his superiors and with connections to the very top NKVD officials”. (Inzhir recalled one “Jewish NKVD veteran who interlarded his words with aphorisms from Talmud”.) He was arrested later again, this time on the wave of anti-Yezhov purges. However, Inzhir’s former colleagues from the GULag favorably arranged his imprisonment. However, at this point he turned into an explicit ”snitch and provocateur”, and other inmates suspected that the plentiful parcels he was receiving were not from his relatives but directly from the Third Department. Nevertheless, later in 1953 in the Tayshet camp, he was sentenced to an additional jail term, this time being accused of Trotskyism and of concealing his “sympathies for the State of Israel” from the Third Department (6).
Of worldwide infamy, BelBallag absorbed hundreds of thousands of Russian, Ukrainian and Middle Asian peasants between 1931 and 1932. Opening a newspaper issue from August, 1933, dedicated to the completion of the canal [between White and Baltic seas], we find a list of awardees. Lower ranking orders and medals were awarded to concreters, steelfixers, etc, but the highest degree of decoration, the Order of Lenin, was awarded to eight men only, and we can see large photographs of each. Only two of them were actual engineers, the rest were the chief commanders of the canal (according to Stalin’s understanding of personal contribution). And whom do we see here? Genrikh Yagoda, head of NKVD. Matvei Berman, head of GULag. Semen Firin, commander of BelBaltlag (by that time he was already the commander of Dmitlag, where the story will later repeat itself). Lazar Kogan, head of construction (later he will serve the same function at Volgocanal). Jacob Rapoport, deputy head of construction. Naftaly Frenkel, chief manager of the labor force of Belomorstroi (and the evil demon of the whole Archipelago) (7).
And all their portraits were enlarged and reprinted again in the solemnly shameful book Belomorcanal (8) – a book of huge Scriptural size, like some revelation anticipating advent of the Millenarian Kingdom.
And then I reproduced these six portraits of villains in Archipelago, borrowing them from their own exhibition and without any prior editing, showing everybody who was originally displayed. Oh my God, what a worldwide rage has surged! How dared I?! This is anti-Semitism! I am a branded and screwed anti-Semite. At best, to reproduce these portraits was “national egotism” – i.e. Russian egotism! And they dared to say it despite what follows immediately on the next pages of Archipelago: how docilely “Kulak” lads were freezing to death under their barrows.
One wonders, where were their eyes in 1933 when it was printed for the very first time? Why weren’t they so indignant then?
Let me repeat what I professed once to the Bolsheviks: one should be ashamed of hideosity not when it is disclosed to public but when it is done.
A particular conundrum exists with respect to the personality of Naftaly Frenkel, that tireless demon of Archipelago: how to explain his strange return from Turkey in 1920′s? He successfully got away from Russia with all his capitals after the first harbingers of revolution. In Turkey, he attained a secure, rich and unconstrained social standing, and he never harbored any Communist ideas. And yet he returned? To come back and become a toy for the GPU and for Stalin, to spend several years in imprisonment himself, but in return to accomplish the most ruthless oppression of imprisoned engineers and the extermination of hundreds of thousands of the “de-Kulakized”? What could have motivated his insatiable evil heart? I am unable to imagine any possible reason except vengeance toward Russia. If anyone can provide an alternative explanation, please do so (9).
What else could be revealed by someone with a thorough understanding of the structure of the camp command? The head of 1st Department of Belomorstroi was one Wolf; the head of the Dmitrov section of Volgocanal was Bovshover. The finance division of Belomorstroi was headed by L. Berenzon, his deputies were A. Dorfman, the already mentioned Inzhir, Loevetsky, Kagner, Angert. And how many of the other humbler posts remain unmentioned? Is it really reasonable to suppose that Jews were digging soil with shovels and racing their hand-barrows and dying under those barrows from exhaustion and emaciation? Well, view it as you wish. A. P. Skripnikova and D. P. Vitkovsky, who were there, told me that Jews were overrepresented among Idiots during construction of Belomorcanal, and they did not roll barrows and did not die under them.
And you could find highly-placed Jewish commanders not only at BelBaltlag. Construction of the Kotlas-Vorkuta railroad was headed by Moroz (his son married Svetlana Stalina); the special officer-in-charge of GULag in the Far East was Grach. These are only a few of the names, which resurfaced accidentally. If a former inmate Thomas Sgovio, an American national, didn’t write to me, I wouldn’t be aware about the head of the Chai-Uryinsk Mining Administration on Kolyma between 1943-44 (at the depths of the Patriotic War): “Half-colonel Arm was a tall black-haired Jew with a terrible reputation… His orderly man was selling ethanol to everybody, 50 grams for 50 rubles. Arm had his own personal tutor of English – a young American, arrested in Karelia. His wife was paid a salary for an accountant’s position, but she didn’t work – her job was actually performed by an inmate in the office” (a common practice revealing how families of GULag commanders used to have additional incomes).
Or take another case: during the age of glasnost, one Soviet newspaper published a story about the dreadful GULag administration that built a tunnel between Sakhalin and the mainland. It was called the “Trust of Arais” (10). Who was that comrade Arais? I have no idea. But how many perished in his mines and in the unfinished tunnel?
Sure, I knew a number of Jews (they were my friends) who carried all the hardships of common labor. In Archipelago, I described a young man, Boris Gammerov, who quickly found his death in the camp. (While his friend, the writer Ingal, was made an accountant from the very first day in the camp, although his knowledge of arithmetic was very poor.) I knew Volodya Gershuni, an irreconcilable and incorruptible man. I knew Jog Masamed, who did common labor in the hard labor camp at Ekibastuz on principle, though he was called upon to join the Idiots. Besides, I would like to list here a teacher Tatyana Moiseevna Falike, who spent 10 years drudging, she said, like a beast of burden. And I also would like to name here a geneticist Vladimir Efroimson, who spent 13 out of his 36 months of imprisonment (one out of his two terms) doing common labor. He also did it on principle, though he also had better options. Relying on parcels from home (one cannot blame him for that), he picked the hand-barrow precisely because there were many Jews from Moscow in that Jezkazgan camp, and they were used to settling well, while Efroimson wanted to dispel any grudge toward Jews, which was naturally emerging among inmates. And what did his brigade think about his behavior? – “He is a black sheep among Jews; would a real Jew roll a barrow?” He was similarly ridiculed by Jewish Idiots who felt annoyed that he “flaunted himself” to reproach them. In the same vein, another Jew, Jacov Davydovich Grodzensky, who also beavered in the common category, was judged by others: “Is he really a Jew?”
It is so symbolic! Both Efroimson and Grodzenskiy did those right and best things, which could be only motivated by the noblest of Jewish appeals, to honestly share the common lot, and they were not understood by either side! They are always difficult and derided – the paths of austerity and dedication, the only ones that can save humanity.
I try not to overlook such examples, because all my hopes depend on them.
Let’s add here a valiant Gersh Keller, one of the leaders of Kengir uprising in 1954 (he was 30 years old when executed). I also read about Yitzhak Kaganov, commander of an artillery squadron during the Soviet-German war. In 1948, he was sentenced to 25 years for Zionism. During 7 years of imprisonment he wrote 480 pieces of poetry in Hebrew, which he memorized without writing them down (11).
During his third trial (July 10, 1978), after already serving two terms, Alexander Ginsburg, was asked a question “What is your nationality?” and replied: “Inmate!” That was a worthy and serious response, and it angered the tribunal. But he deserved it for his work for the Russian Public Relief Fund, which provided assistance to families of political prisoners of all nationalities, and by his manly vocation. This is what we are – a genuine breed of prisoners, regardless of nationality.
However, my camps were different, – spanning from the “great” Belomor to the tiny 121st camp district of the 15th OLP of Moscow’s UITLK (which left behind a not inconspicuous semi-circular building at Kaluga’s gate in Moscow). Out there, our entire life was directed and trampled by three leading Idiots: Solomon Solomonov, a chief accountant; David Burstein, first an “educator” and later a work-assigning clerk; and Isaac Bershader. (Earlier, in exactly the same way, Solomonov and Bershader ruled over the camp at the Moscow Highway Institute, MHI.) Note that all this happened under auspices of a Russian camp commander, one ensign Mironov.
All three of them came up before my eyes, and to get positions for them, in each case their Russian predecessors were instantly removed from the posts. Solomonov was sent in first; he confidently seized a proper position and quickly got on the right side of the ensign. (I think, using food and money from outside.) Soon after that the wretched Bershader was sent in from MHI with an accompanying note “to use him only in the common labor category” (a quite unusual situation for a domestic criminal, which probably meant substantial delinquency). He was about fifty years old, short, fat, with a baleful glare. He walked around condescendingly inspecting our living quarters, with the look of a general from the head department.
The senior proctor asked him: “What is your specialty?” – “Storekeeper”. – “There is no such specialty” – “Well, I am a storekeeper”. – “Anyway, you are going to work in the common labor brigade”. For two days he was sent there. Shrugging his shoulders, he went out, and, upon entering the work zone, he used to seat himself on a stone and rest respectably. The brigadier would have hit him, but he quailed – the newcomer was so self-confident, that anyone could sense power behind him. The camp’s storekeeper, Sevastyanov, was depressed as well. For two years he was in charge of the combined provision and sundry store. He was firmly established and lived on good terms with the brass, but now he was chilled: everything is already settled! Bershader is a “storekeeper by specialty”!
Then the medical unit discharged Bershader from the labor duties on grounds of “poor health” and after that he rested in the living quarters. Meanwhile, he probably got something from outside. And within less than a week Sevastyanov was removed from his post, and Bershader was made a storekeeper (with the assistance of Solomonov). However, at this point it was found that the physical labor of pouring grain and rearranging boots, which was done by Sevastyanov single-handedly, was also contraindicated for Bershader. So he was given a henchman, and Solomonov’s bookkeeping office enlisted the latter as service personnel. But it was still not a sufficiently abundant life. The best looking proudest woman of the camp, the swan-like lieutenant-sniper M. was bent to his will and forced to visit him in his store-room in the evenings. After Burstein showed himself in the camp, he arranged to have another camp beauty, A. S., to come to his cubicle.
Is it difficult to read this? But they were by no means troubled how it looked from outside. It even seemed as if they thickened the impression on purpose. And how many such little camps with similar establishments were there all across the Archipelago?
And did Russian Idiots behave in the same way, unrestrained and insanely!? Yes. But within every other nation it was perceived socially, like an eternal strain between rich and poor, lord and servant. However, when an alien emerges as a “master over life and death” it further adds to the heavy resentment. It might appear strange – isn’t it all the same for a worthless negligible, crushed, and doomed camp dweller surviving at one of his dying stages? isn’t it all the same who exactly seizes the power inside the camp and celebrates crow’s picnics over his trench-grave? As it turns out, it is not. These things have been etched into my memory inerasably.
In my play Republic of Labor, I presented some of the events that happened in that camp on Bolshaya Kaluzhskaya 30. Understanding the impossibility of depicting everything like it was in reality, because it would be inevitably considered as incitement of anti-Jewish sentiment (as if that trio of Jews was not inflaming it in real life, caring little about consequences) I withheld the abominably greedy Bershader. I concealed Burstein. I recomposed the profiteer Rosa Kalikman into an amorphous Bella of eastern origin, and retained the only Jew, accountant Solomonov, exactly like he was in life.
So, what about my loyal Jewish friends after they perused the play? The play aroused extraordinarily passionate protests from V. L. Teush. He read it not immediately but when Sovremennik had already decided to stage it in 1962, so the question was far from scholarly. The Teushes were deeply injured by the figure of Solomonov. They thought it was dishonest and unjust to show such a Jew (despite that in the real life, in the camp, he was exactly as I showed him) in the age of oppression of Jews. (But then, it appears to me that such age is everlasting? When have our Jews not been oppressed?) Teush was alarmed and extremely agitated, and put forward an ultimatum that if I did not remove or at least soften up the image of Solomonov, then all our friendship will be ruined and he and his wife will no longer be able to keep my manuscripts. Moreover, they prophesized that my very name will be irretrievably lost and blemished if I leave Solomonov in the play. Why not to make him a Russian? They were astonished. Is it so important that he be a Jew? (But if it doesn’t matter, why did Solomonov select Jews to be Idiots?)
I took a chill pill: a sudden censorial ban, no less weighty than the official Soviet prohibition, had emerged from an unanticipated direction. However, the situation was soon resolved by the official prohibition forbidding Sovremennik to stage the piece.
And there was another objection from Teush: “Your Solomonov has anything but Jewish personality. A Jew always behaves discreetly, cautiously, suppliantly, and even cunningly, but from where comes this pushy impudence of jubilant force? This is not true, it cannot happen like this!”
However, I remember not this Solomonov alone, and it was exactly like that! I saw many things in the 1920′s and 1930′s in Rostov-on-Don. And Frenkel acted similarly, according to the recollections of surviving engineers. Such a slip of a triumphant power into insolence and arrogance is the most repelling thing for those around. Sure, it is usually behavior of the worst and rudest – but this is what becomes imprinted in memory. (Likewise the Russian image is soiled by the obscenities of our villains.)
All these blandishments and appeals to avoid writing about the things like they were – are undistinguishable from what we heard from the highest Soviet tribunes: about anti-defamation, about socialist realism – to write like it should be, not like it was.
As if a creator is capable of forgetting or creating his past anew! As if the full truth can be written in parts, including only what is pleasing, secure and popular.
And how meticulously all the Jewish characters in my books were analyzed with every personal feature weighted on apothecary scales. But the astonishing story of Grigory M., who did not deliver the order to retreat to a dying regiment because he was frightened (Archipelago GULag, v. 6, Ch. 6) – was not noticed. It was passed over without a single word! And Ivan Denisovich added insult to injury: there were such sophisticated sufferers but I put forward a boor!
For instance, during Gorbachev’s glasnost, emboldened Asir Sandler published his camp memoirs. “After first perusal, I emphatically rejected One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich… the main personage was Ivan Denisovich, a man with minimal spiritual needs, focused only on his mundane troubles” – and Solzhenitsyn turned him into the national image… (Exactly like all well-meaning communists were grumbling at that time!) While “[Solzhenitsyn] preferred not to notice the true intelligentsia, the determinant of domestic culture and science”. Sandler was discussing this with Miron Markovich Etlis (both used to be Idiots in medical unit). And Etlis added: “The story is significantly distorted, placed upside down”. “Solzhenitsyn failed to emphasize …the intelligent part of our contingent”… Self-centered reflections [of Ivan Denisovich] about himself… that patience… that pseudo-Christian attitude toward others”. And in 1964 Sandler was lucky to relieve his feelings in conversation with Ehrenburg himself. And the latter affirmatively nodded when Sandler mentioned his “extremely negative” feeling toward my novelette (12).
However, not a single Jew reproached me that Ivan Denisovich, in essence, attends to Cesar Markovich as a servant, albeit with good feelings.
1 Семён Бадаш. Колыма ты моя, Колыма… New York: Effect Publishing Inc.. 1986, с. 65-66.
2 В. Лемпорт. Эллипсы судьбы // Время и мы: Международный журнал литературы и общественных проблем. Нью-Йорк, 1991, № 113. с. 168.
3 Л. Воронель. Трепет иудейских забот. 2-е изд. Рамат-Ган: Москва-Иерусалим, 1981, с. 28-29.
4 Михаил Хейфец. Место и время (еврейские заметки). Париж: Третья волна, 1978, с. 93.
5 А. Зисман. «Книга о русском еврействе» // Новая Заря, Сан-Франциско, 1960, 7 мая, с. 3.
6 Иосиф Бергер. Крушение поколения: Воспоминания / Пер. с англ. Firenze: Edizioni Aurora. 1973, с. 148-164.
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