How Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Wrote In Secret In The Gulag

The Soviet Union waged its war on the written and spoken word, it was too dangerous. As Pol Pot’s genocidal dictatorship put it, farmers were the best since they were free of dangerous foreign ideas. One Russian author was arrested in 1944 because he was critical of Joseph Stalin in a letter to a high […]

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The Soviet Union waged its war on the written and spoken word, it was too dangerous. As Pol Pot’s genocidal dictatorship put it, farmers were the best since they were free of dangerous foreign ideas. One Russian author was arrested in 1944 because he was critical of Joseph Stalin in a letter to a high school friend.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a decorated soldier in the Red Army during World War II. He had been the commander of a sound-ranging battery unit. They judged the distance of enemy artillery by the sound of its guns.

Solzhenitsyn saw combat during the war and was awarded the Order of the Red Star in July 1944 for the destruction of Nazi artillery.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in West Germany 1974. (Wikipedia)

While in East Prussia Solzhenitsyn saw war crimes that led to a poem he would nearly die to write.

Solzhenitsyn admittedly never questioned Soviet ideology until he was in the Gulag. The Gulag system was dissolved by Nikita Khrushchev in January 1960, but this was years after he was released. His later written works were critical of the Soviet Union and he was forced into exile from Russia.

Solzhenitsyn Wrote In The Gulag

In January 1945, he had been an artillery commander stationed in the Second Belorussian Front which invaded East Prussia. Only weeks later in February 1945, he was arrested by SMERSH. He had been critical of Joseph Stalin and of the treatment of civilians by Soviet soldiers in a letter to a high school friend.

SMERSH was a term coined by Joseph Stalin. The main purpose was to prevent the Nazis from infiltrating the Red Army on the Eastern Front of WWII.

During the invasion of East Prussia by the Second Belorussian Front, he witnessed a young girl gang-raped to death by Soviet soldiers. He memorialized her in the poem, “Prussian Nights”.

Дом не жжен, но трепан, граблен.
Чей-то стон стеной ослаблен :
Мать – не на смерть. На матрасе,
Рота, взвод ли побывал –
Дочь-девчонка наповал.
Сведено к словам простым :
НЕ ЗАБУДЕМ ! НЕ ПРОСТИМ !
КРОВЬ ЗА КРОВЬ и зуб за зуб !
— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Prussian Nights 
The little daughter’s on the mattress,
Dead. How many have been on it
A platoon, a company perhaps?
A girl’s been turned into a woman,
A woman turned into a corpse.
It’s all come down to simple phrases:
Do not forget! Do not forgive!
Blood for blood! A tooth for a tooth!
— Robert Conquest 
Robert Conquest first published “Prussian Nights” into English in 1977.

Obviously while under the forced-labor system Solzhenitsyn was not allowed to write. His method for writing undetected: he wrote several lines on a bar of soap, memorizing it before hiding the evidence. By this process and others we aren’t sure of, he completed “Prussian Nights”, 1200 lines, 50 pages of prose.

Writing helping him survive the Gulag. He said, “I needed a clear head, because for two years I had been writing a poem—a most rewarding poem that helped me not to notice what was being done to my body. Sometimes, while standing in a column of dejected prisoners, amidst the shouts of guards with machine guns, I felt such a rush of rhymes and images that I seemed to be wafted overhead . . . At such moments I was both free and happy . . . Some prisoners tried to escape by smashing a car through the barbed wire. For me, there was no barbed wire. The headcount of prisoners remained unchanged, but I was actually away on a distant flight.”

In March 1953 Solzhenitsyn’s sentence ended, and he was exiled to Birlik Kazakhstan. There he nearly died from undiagnosed cancer.

His works were critical of Soviet institutions and leaders, making Solzhenitsyn marked for death in the eyes of the KGB. The KGB attempted to assassinate him on August 8, 1971, using a gel-based ricin poison. They failed and he survived.

Solzhenitsyn went on to author The Gulag Archipelago, the most detailed account of the Soviet Gulag prison system in history.

Source 1

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