Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A picture of a real Gulag

By Aussiegirl

The following excerpt from the remarkable book called "Coming Out of the Ice", by Victor Herman, recounting his hellish years spent in the Soviet Gulags following his arrest during the Stalinist times needs little elaboration from me.
This is a book that should be read by every American -- young or old. It is the almost unbelievable tale of a young American boy who wound up in the Soviet Union when his father accepted a job with the Ford Motor Company. Victor Herman became a star athlete and celebrity pilot who was dubbed the "Lindbergh of Russia". But in spite of his medals and his celebrity status, he, along with his family, fell victim to Stalin's insane and paranoiac purges.

This excerpt is only the beginning of Victor's adventures in Stalin-land.

Victor spent eighteen years in the Stalinist Gulag, felling wood in the icy forests of Siberia, in labor camps designed to work the inmates to death. But Victor didn't die. He lived to tell his tale. He lived to triumph over those who tried to destroy him, and who destroyed countless millions of other souls whose stories will never be told. But Victor lived to return to America and tell his story.

Perhaps Dick Durbin and all the other Dick Durbins of this world should read this book. And perhaps then, they could acquire the first ingredient necessary for acquiring a conscience -- shame -- but perhaps I ask for too much.


The guard in front of me produced his key. It was amazing. It was downright comical, this gigantic key he was fitting into the lock in a door, and I kept thinking how comical it all was -- could they not see it? A key like that, it was impossible that they did not see the humor of it.

He got the key in there and actually used two hands to turn it. Then the two guards together, in a hard sudden motion, as if they would shout out "Surprise!" as they did it, hauled back powerfully on the door.

The appalling distortions of men in there and the gas that rushed out from their midst, it was the first time in my life that I tipped forward towards the precipice of a faint. For an instant I did not think my legs would hold me -- and though I kept myself standing, another man inside me staggered, reeled crazily, fell spiraling into a massive swoon.

"In!" the one guard said.

He did not push me. Neither guard did. They stood there with me, watching. I breathed through my mouth and held it. I bit down on my molars.

And I walked in.

I made sixteen -- sixteen men in that space, a space ten feet by five and a half feet, and to the ceiling eight feet or an inch or two higher.

I will tell you what Cell 39 was like -- and this is what it was exactly -- the space ten by five and a half, and to the ceiling eight feet, maybe somewhat higher. There was a window opposite the door, although from outside I had seen no windows. Over this window there were boards and no light came through, and you only knew there was a window there because later on they told you. On either side of the space there were three benches and on these the men sat -- and they sat in the position. The floor was concrete, dark gray -- the walls were concrete, also dark gray -- the ceiling the same. Over the door, very high up, just under the ceiling, a bulb, maybe twenty-five watts. It never went off. It always burned, the little light that came from it constant. The door was iron, and in it there was a peephole and, lower down, a slot, the feeder. In front of the door there was the big pot, the cauldron, an oil drum cut approximately in half. It was the "Parasha", the pot where the steaming mess from us was collected. It had a lid, the "Parasha", a disk of wood that went over it, and as spectacular as the smell from it always was, the gas that boiled up from the "Parasha", it was a thousand hells worse with the lid off.

You sat -- in the position -- behind the muzzle. The muzzle -- the "Namordnik" -- the boarding that covers the window. No looking out, no looking in -- and no light except from the bulb over the door that always burned.

The metal door behind me slammed closed. I stood there, trying to get my eyes used to the light, and then I moved before I was ready and banged my knees into steel. It was the pot -- and I almost went down across it, but pushed myself back up, my hand on the lid. It seemed fuzzy, a thing with growth. I snatched my hand behind me as if to shake something off.

The men on one side reached out their hands and led me along, passing me along to a place on their shelf. I was lucky. It was the place at the end of their bench, a place as far from the "Parasha" as you could get.

I sat there where they placed me, where they gave me a place, these figures of men that lined three sides, all seated now as they had been when that door was hauled abruptly open, their hands on their knees, their backs rigid, their faces all turned toward me as I stood there with the guards in the doorway, my brain struggling to check itself from the well of falling that opened before it, all those terrible faces staring, all turned in the same direction, the eyes in them wide, staring, every man's hands on his knees, his back like wood, mouth open, breathing.

It was the position that they sat in -- and that's how they were sitting now, the steel door closed, no one there to look at now, yet their faces all still turned there, their eyes all fixed on that one spot, and staring -- all save the one man who lay on the floor under the bench on the other side.

There were fifteen of us seated, and the sixteenth man was under there, on the other side, curled into himself and, like the rest of them, he was facing the door, his eyes fastened and, as theirs were on that peephole high in the door.

We sat on removable boards placed on benches on each side. That's how you sat and this put your knees less than an inch from those of the man that sat across from you.

I sat as I sat, leaned back against the wall -- I had to push myself back to reach it. It was incredible that the rest of them sat that other way, at the very edge on the bench so far forward on the boards, their backs rigid and inches from the wall. I just sat as I sat and studied the man that was all curled into himself under the bench on the other side.

"What's wrong with him?" I said, and no one answered -- no one even turned.

"Is he sick?" I said.

Just that staring -- and no reply.

"He looks sick to me," I said. "Mister, are you sick?" I said.

There was nothing, no answer, no motion from any of them -- except on the other side, on the end, the end near the door, a man darted his finger to his lips. He did not turn to me when he did this. But the movement he made was so startling -- since nothing else in there moved -- my attention leaped to his signaling finger and I heard it like a shout. It was a motion I will never forget, so jarring was that little movement, his finger pressing at his lips and then his finger pointing. To the peephole.

It was none of it difficult to understand. It was simply a question of whether you wanted to. I looked around at them all and I considered what could have gotten men to do it, what force it was that held them that way, like wooden cutouts, like dolls propped up and then nailed to where they were.

You did not get men to sit like that without good reason.

I needed no convincing. It was all the instruction I would need.

I assumed the position -- and, like them, I directed my attention to the peephole and kept it there. It was how the day was passed.

It was how the days were passed for one year.

2 Comments:

At 7:52 PM, Blogger Billy D said...

But hey, at least they didn't have their personal space invaded by a woman, like highjacker 20.
Why is it people just don't seem to understand anything? Oh well, if and when the excrement hits the oscillating device, our side does have most of the guns.

 
At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Pindar said...

If ever there was a book that demonstrates the hellish depth to which man's inhumanity to man can descend, it's this book. I remember reading it years ago, and being absolutely shaken to my very core by, both by the unspeakable cruelty of the Russians, and by Victor Herman's unbelievable tenacity of spirit and refusal to be defeated by anything those monsters could throw at him. Eighteen years of hell...words fail me. If you want to read one book that shows you what evil truly is, then this is the book.

 

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